While everyone’s focus is on the lame duck session of Congress and their continuing game playing, grand standing and finger pointing, the Federal Agency heads are up to their own mischief. Off the radar screen activities of regulators can often do far more damage to small businesses than the over-publicized Congressional battles.
Just last month Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that his department is looking at technology that will disable cell phones in vehicles. Stating unequivocally “I think it will be done”, Secretary LaHood has laid down the gauntlet to commuters and small business owners whose livelihood often depends on being able to stay in close touch with co-workers and customers.
No one questions the substantial increase in productivity experienced by American workers in the last decade. That productivity isn’t because workers are smarter, it’s because they have a plethora of technology tools at their disposal which makes them more efficient.
Last year, staffing firm Kelly Services released a study as part of its Global Workforce Index. 75% of North American workers say “the opportunity provided by devices such as smartphones and laptops to remain in constant contact with work is a positive development.” Kelly Services EVP, George Corona says “The revolution in personal communications has improved work-life balance….while delivering a significant boost to organizational efficiency.” Part of this happy efficiency is because cell phones allow workers to be productive even if stuck in urban areas’ legendary traffic snarls.
Using a sledge hammer to kill an ant
In 2009, the Department of Transportation (DOT) reported that 18% of the fatal distracted-driving crashes involved a cell phone which was either in use at the time of the crash or was in the car. The report admits that most of the distracted-driving-related fatalities (84%) were reported as “operating the vehicle in a careless or inattentive manner”. Further, more than half of the cell phone crashes involved motorcycles, large trucks and buses where a valid argument could be made for the inadvisability of cell phone use while driving.
The DOT further explains that distraction is a specific type of inattention that occurs when drivers divert their attention from the driving task to focus on some other activity instead. “Distraction” is explained as a subset of “inattention” and distraction also includes fatigue, and physical and emotional conditions of the driver.
What about eating in the car, distracted mother with squabbling children in the car, shaving in the car, listening to loud rap music in the car – what makes a driver distracted? Can DOT realistically police what drivers do inside their own car?
And what about other passengers in the car? With a signal scrambling device in the vehicle, no one will be able to use a cell phone. What about emergencies? If you witness an accident or see someone in trouble, you will not be able to dial 911 to report it unless you pull off to the side of the road, turn off your engine and then make your call.
Secretary LaHood needs to rethink this one. Maybe DOT can focus on the 84% other distractions that cause accidents – like driving while reading the daily newspaper draped over the steering wheel.