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Will Driver Distraction Affect Radio?

Though lawmakers are focusing on bills to ban texting while driving, they’re casting a wide ‘electronic’ net

Radio needs to pay attention to the distracted driving discussion taking place on the Hill.

Two bills introduced in Congress focus on banning texting while driving, but they don’t exclude other distractions. In fact, the bill discussed Wednesday in the Senate Commerce Committee, the “Distracted Driving Prevention Act of 2009,” states that within one year of enactment, the Secretary of Transportation would prescribe regulations “on the use of electronic or wireless devices — including cell phones and other distracting devices.”

The Federal Communications Commission would play a role also, especially in educating the public about the new law, should it be approved.

Chairman Julius Genachowski told lawmakers the FCC learned a lot about communicating with the public during the DTV transition. He told lawmakers the agency would try to get better data on what drivers actually do in the car to see “if there are technologies that will help us steer this in the direction we all want.”

Genachowski added he stressed to FCC employees the importance of complying with President Obama’s recent executive order banning the use of federal devices to text while driving. He asked employees to go further and avoid driving while texting at all.

Right now, the bill’s focus is on commercial drivers but lawmakers want to extend the impact to all drivers, especially teens.

It was clear during the hearing some lawmakers consider anything other than driving a distraction, like drinking, or using the CD player in the radio. For example, Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. ticked off several other distractions, like maps and the “hundreds of channels of satellite radio” in the car.

This is something to watch as the definition of “other devices” becomes clear.