Ford backs ban on hand-held phones while driving

Ford Motor, perhaps trying to ensure the value of its Sync hands-free, voice-operated switching system, says it is foursquare behind a federal ban on the use of hand-held mobile devices, including phones, while driving. Ford’s Sync lets a driver use voice commands to control audio sources and navigation and to make phone calls if a cellphone is connected to the Sync system.

According to a report from our colleague Aaron Kessler, Washington reporter for the DetroitFree Press, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., last month introduced the Safe Drivers Act of 2011. The proposed legislation would direct the Department of Transportation to set a national standard prohibiting such use of mobile devices, except in certain emergencies.

And Ford now is the first automaker to publicly support the bill. “Distracted driving is an important issue, and that’s why Ford became the first automaker to support proposed legislation banning handheld texting while driving in 2009 and why we are proud to support Rep. McCarthy’s legislation,” said Pete Lawson, Ford’s vice president of government affairs, in a statement today.

Devices that allow hands-free use of a cellphone — such as Sync — would be permitted under McCarthy’s legislation.

But the Department of Transportation would also be directed to study whether any mobile phones or other devices are distracting — even when operated hands-free:

A finding that such “cognitive distraction” poses a safety risk could put a damper on in-vehicle infotainment technologies and hands-free phone integration that have become popular with automakers, including Ford.

Lawson said that Ford believes hands-free technology is an appropriate solution, citing research showing that “drawing drivers’ eyes away from the road – whether text messaging, manually dialing a cellphone, or reading maps – substantially increases the risk of an accident or near misses.

“Ford believes hands-free, voice-activated technology significantly reduces that risk by allowing drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road,” Lawson said.

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