Distracted driving has become a national epidemic affecting drivers of all ages. With so many demands on drivers’ attention, it is easy to look away from the road, remove hands from the steering wheel or let the mind wander. But, in a split second, that quick glance away, fleeting thought or quick grab can result in tragedy: in 2009 alone, nearly 5,500 people died in crashes involving distracted drivers.

The federal government has decided enough is enough and has launched initiatives to reduce distracted driving. Launching the website d!straction.gov, the U.S. Department of Transportation hopes to reach parents, teachers, students, employers and law enforcement with the message to just “Put It Down” and focus on driving responsibly. Further, it has requested a $50 million budget in 2010 to expand ticketing efforts against texting while driving. However, the efforts do not end there.

By 2017, estimates indicate more than 17 million vehicles equipped with info-tainment systems will be cruising America’s roadways. These systems give drivers the ability to multitask while driving. With these vehicles, drivers may be able to:

  • Check email
  • Change music sources
  • Update social network statuses
  • Operate telephone interfaces
  • Monitor navigational systems

The U.S. Transportation Department and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are targeting carmakers and urging them to curb the in-car media revolution. In addition to minimizing onboard technology-driven diversions, carmakers are being encouraged to reallocate marketing budgets to include funding for public-service announcements reminding drivers to focus on the road.

Balancing consumer demand for the communication technology and the government’s urging is a challenge that carmakers must meet. If they do not, the Department of Transportation has the power to curb the technology built into cars if there is a demonstrated threat to public safety.

Carmakers have made the move to hands-free technology, but this may not be enough to satisfy the Department of Transportation. In addition to launching campaigns against distracted driving and influencing carmakers, the Department is studying the impact of technology on attentive driving, including hands-free devices. It expects to conclude its research and finalize a new set of guidelines governing in-vehicle communications technology by early 2012.

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