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Apple, other tech firms talk distracted driving at Senate summit

updated 06:48 pm EST, Thu February 6, 2014

Carmakers and tech firms alike discuss solutions to life-threatening problem

Retiring Senator Jay Rockefeller IV (D-WV) on Thursday chaired a day-long summit on distracted driving that featured appearances by representatives of Apple, Google, Samsung, AT&T, General Motors, Toyota and others. While perhaps a bit ironic to some observers, the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation is seeking "more robust technological solutions to distracted driving."

According to the National Safety Council, as many as one-fourth of US automobile crashes involve drivers talking or texting on their smartphones while driving, and despite laws to forbid it, the temptation to be connected at all times is proving too great for modern drivers. "Surveys show that nearly all Americans know the perils of distracted driving -- that texting behind the wheel, for instance, makes it 23 times more likely that they will be involved in a crash," Rockefeller wrote in addressing the need for the hearings. Other studies have rated texting while driving to be the equivalent of driving while drunk or under the heaviest cold medications.

Apple was represented by its Director of Federal Government Affairs, Timothy Powderly, while Google sent its Android for Automative Product Manager, Andrew Brenner. Samsung Electronics North America was represented by Communications Policy & Regulatory Affairs VP John Godfrey. Other companies represented at the hearing included Cellcontrol, Sprint, Consumers Union, Verizon Telematics, the National Safety Council and Aegis Mobility. The title of the meeting series was "Over-Connected and Behind the Wheel: A Summit on Technological Solutions to Distracted Driving."

Senator Rockefeller called for carriers, carmakers and tech companies to work together to "harness the same ingenuity to reduce distracted driving, rather than creating new forms of distraction. Many drivers may, in fact, prefer to limit their distractions while they are on the road ... and many parents would like the ability to establish such limitations for teen drivers in their family. Perhaps we should be looking to limit the functionality of mobile and built-in technologies, rather than accommodate them."

"I strongly believe phones should be capable of automatically limiting functionalities while in the car, whether the phones are connected to the in-car systems or not," Rockefeller said in his prepared introduction. "We know that technological means of accomplishing this already exist, but they are not widely available and do not seamlessly operate across software platforms. Mobile device-makers, software developers, automakers and wireless carriers should be working collaboratively now to remove these obstacles. This is a problem that cannot be solved by just one industry alone, and I would like to see broad cooperation across the spectrum of stakeholders."

A video of the hearings will be posted by the committee on its website in due course.

By Electronista Staff
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