What the U.S. Blueprint to Tackle Distracted Driving Means to Independent Auto Shops

Beginning with the inauguration of the Obama administration, the Department of Transportation, led by Secretary Ray LaHood, has targeted distracted driving. Labeled by an “epidemic” of “100% preventable” fatalities, the DOT has been formulating guidelines and plans to address the issue nationwide. In early June, DOT released the “Blueprint for Ending Distracted Driving,” a brief report highlighting successful programs since DOT’s focus on distracted driving in 2009, outlining the need for more research on distracted driving  and providing recommendations for future efforts.

Summary of the Blueprint

At this time, Secretary LaHood believes that voluntary efforts are the best course of action rather than creating more legislation to govern driver behavior and market/after-market communications and navigation system design. To that end, the Blueprint:

  • Encourages the 11 states without distracted driving laws to enact and enforce new legislation (currently, New Mexico only bans texting and cell phone use for novice drivers).
  • Challenges automakers to adopt new and future guidelines to reduce the distraction potential of communications and navigation technology. (To date, DOT has only released Phase 1 guidelines for in-car technology that addresses hand-held devices. Phase 2 will address hands-free technology, and Phase 3 will address voice-activated devices.)
  • Works with driver education professionals to better educate novice drivers (who are 2-3 times more likely to text while driving than older drivers) using new curriculum materials.
  • Provides all stakeholder with actions they may take to address distracted driving beyond taking personal responsibility.

 Summary from NHTSA press release: http://www.nhtsa.gov/About+NHTSA/Press+Releases/2012/DOT+Sec.+LaHood+Issues+Blueprint+for+Ending+Distracted+Driving,+Announces+$2.4+Million+for+California,+Delaware+Pilot+Projects

Because there is no legislation being proposed, the only financial backing for the Blueprint is $2.4 million allocated for pilot programs in California and Delaware. Programs in these states will replicate on a larger scale the public education programs deemed effective in reducing distracted driving in Syracuse, NY and Hartford, CT.

An Independent Auto Shop’s Response to the Blueprint

Quanz Advanced Auto Body is, of course, an advocate of all programs designed to reduce distracted driving and the damage, injuries and fatalities that result. In fact, we tweet about it all the time.

But for an auto body/auto mechanic shop, the Blueprint is more complicated because it has some practical and financial implications for a small, family-owned business. While currently, auto makers are putting up some resistance to DOT’s technology guidelines, saying they need to be more flexible when it comes to moving images like maps, there isn’t a lot of changes being made to built-in or after-market communications and navigation systems. However, down the road, as new technological development enter the market, as drivers’ needs to stay connected are redefined, it is likely that auto makers will make (or be mandated to make) more sophisticated systems that are completely voice-activated, have some applications disabled depending on the car’s gear, etc.

If these system modifications can, indeed, help keep drivers’ eyes, ears and mindful attention on the road, then they are, certainly, welcome integrations. But they are modifications that will require equally sophisticated scan-tool equipment to diagnose problems and advanced training to fix them. Keeping up with the equipment and training demands to fix in-car entertainment, communications and navigations systems may become a financial burden for small, independent garages. Yet, if fully integrated communications and navigations systems are the way of the future of automotive technology, to compete, small, independent shops will have no choice but to provide service for these systems.

No matter the size of the shop, independent or national chain, the costs of tools and technician training to service built-in or after-market technology will be built into the cost of service, and customers will not be happy about the expensive repairs these systems require.

The most cost-effective remedy to the “distraction epidemic” is public education and personal responsibility. In lieu of those, there will be major financial investments from drivers, auto repair centers and numerous stakeholder agencies.

Drive safely, ABQ!