Next: empty moralizing about web-surfing while driving

Now isn’t this rich. Washington state troopers are giving $124 tickets to motorists who use hand-held cell-phones, enforcing a new law that critics say isn’t tough enough. (The Columbian, The Daily News, Longview, WA, June 11) And last month, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon banned all UN employees from using cellular devices while driving in an effort to take the prohibition global. Ban is teaming up with US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Jennifer Smith, president and co-founder of a national advocacy group, FocusDriven, for the global campaign. Ban told reporters in New York:

Every year, more than 1.2 million people die on the roads around the world, and as many as 50 million others are injured… Studies indicate that using a mobile phone increases the risk of a crash by about 4 times. And yet in some countries up to 90 percent of people use mobile phones while driving. We must instil [sic] a culture of road safety. A culture in which driving while distracted—on the phone, or text messaging—is unacceptable… I want every driver in the world to get the message: Texting while driving kills. No SMS is worth SOS. The United Nations is leading by example. That is why I am issuing an administrative instruction aimed at promoting road safety, saving lives and prohibiting all drivers of UN vehicles from texting while driving. I thank the leaders here for being a driving force for road safety. Together, we have a message to all drivers of the world: Don’t let using a mobile for a few seconds make you or others immobile for life.

In March, the UN General Assembly proclaimed the period from 2011 to 2020 as the Decade of Action for Road Safety to encourage global efforts to halt or reverse the increasing trend in road traffic deaths and injuries around the world. Several countries have been enacting cell phone use bans while operating motor vehicles in response to the increase in cell phone related accidents. In October, Ontario enacted a law banning the use of hand-held devices while driving, joining other jurisdictions in Canada and the US to pass such bans including Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Labrador, California, Washington and New York. Last October, US President Barack Obama signed an executive order making it illegal for federal employees or government contractors to use text messaging while driving.

Despite numerous studies showing that drivers using hand-held phones are more likely to get into a crash or near-crash, some have criticized bans on using technology while driving. Dave McCurdy, CEO of the Auto Alliance, an automobile industry advocacy group, cautioned that increasing restrictions on technology use in automobiles may cross a threshold and hinder more than help. But the Auto Alliance’s official position supports legislation that bans text messaging while driving. (Jurist, May 20)

Last year, a lugubrious propaganda video against texting-while-driving in England, with pornographic detail of motorway carnage, was the subject of much public ridicule and controversy. (Word for World is Forest blog, Aug. 28, 2009)

Yet, amidst all this, Detroit and Silicone Valley are teaming up to bring us—apparently with no interference from the authorities—dashboard web access! From the New York Times, Jan. 6:

Driven to Distraction:
Despite Risks, Internet Creeps Onto Car Dashboards

LAS VEGAS — To the dismay of safety advocates already worried about driver distraction, automakers and high-tech companies have found a new place to put sophisticated Internet-connected computers: the front seat.

Technology giants like Intel and Google are turning their attention from the desktop to the dashboard, hoping to bring the power of the PC to the car. They see vast opportunity for profit in working with automakers to create the next generation of irresistible devices.

This week at the Consumer Electronics Show, the neon-drenched annual trade show here, these companies are demonstrating the breadth of their ambitions, like 10-inch screens above the gearshift showing high-definition videos, 3-D maps and Web pages.

The first wave of these “infotainment systems,” as the tech and car industries call them, will hit the market this year.

So—count on it—a year or two from now, the UN Secretary General and assorted do-gooders like Jennifer Smith will be lecturing us about the dangers of watching porn videos while driving. Which just goes to show how empty all this moralizing really is. It merely legitimizes the life-destroying cult of the private automobile, and staves off the inevitable solution which is also urgently mandated by the climate crisis: banning cars. And, while we’re at it, cell phones.

See our last posts on car culture, and the hypertrophy of the technosphere.

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  1. Well, we sure called this one…

    From the New York Times, Dec. 22:

    The federal government’s main auto safety regulator said on Wednesday that it had opened an investigation into a feature in Teslas that allows drivers to play games on a dashboard touch screen while the car is in motion.

    The investigation, by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is the latest of several moves that regulators have taken in recent months regarding safety issues in cars made by Tesla, the dominant electric carmaker and the world’s most valuable automaker.