Florida Mulls Texting and Driving Ban While Feds Ask Auto Industry to Limit In-Car Distractions

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Lawmakers in Florida -- one of the most deadly states when it comes to driving -- are squabbling over whether we need a specific law against texting from behind the wheel. 

It seems like a no-brainer when considering, as reported by the Associated Press, that there are "drivers who text take their eyes off the road for almost 5 seconds," enough time to pilot a several-ton machine the length of a football field at 55 mph without ever noticing. 

Still, those opposed argue that such a ban is too intrusive. And, anyway, Florida has reckless-driving laws that can be applied to texting drivers.

While the proposed statewide ban stagnates up in Tallahassee, the U.S. Department of Transportation has taken a new approach to increasing our focus behind the wheel: ask the auto industry to make cars less distracting.  

Last week, the DOT's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released its "first-ever federally proposed guidelines to encourage automobile manufacturers to limit the distraction risk for in-vehicle electronic devices." The guidelines apply to "communications, entertainment, information gathering and navigation devices or functions that are not required to safely operate the vehicle," according to a news release.

According to CNET's Don Reisinger:

The organization says car makers should not allow drivers to text message, surf the Web, access social networks, or even manually input an address destination into a GPS device, unless the vehicle is in park. External devices that are not built into the car are not covered under the proposed guidelines.

Within its recommendations, the DOT cites a study that found "text messaging was associated with the highest level of distraction potential. Ten-digit dialing was the second most distracting task; radio tuning had the lowest level."

The new guidelines are only the first phase of a comprehensive plan the DOT plans to unveil aimed at distracted driving. Future recommendations could relate to smartphones, iPods, and similar gadgets we travel with. As Wired's Chuck Squatriglia explains:

Looking further ahead, the NHTSA is drafting "Phase II" proposed guidelines that could apply to anything you might bring into the car, such as a navi system, smartphone or tablet. A third phase of regulations could apply to voice-activated control of gadgets to further minimize distractions.

The DOT also says in the report that it will consider "drafting and publishing sample text-messaging laws for consideration and possible use by the states."

For Florida's sake, maybe they should provide some sample laws for talking on cell phones while driving too. 

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