11/29/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Ban Hand-Held Texting and Calling While Driving, but Don't Sever the Wireless Link to Cars

Research in real-life situations has shown that using a hand-held cell phone to text or call while driving is not safe. Driving - even with today's cutting-edge safety technology - is too important a responsibility to try to do while being distracted by a hand-held cell phone.

A Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study found that 80 percent of all crashes involved the driver looking away from the road just before a crash. While that study was fairly recent, Alliance members have long understood the importance of keeping drivers' "eyes-on-the-road."

In 2000 we began voluntarily developing guidelines - the first comprehensive ones ever - for vehicle-integrated features that allow drivers to manage tasks while maximizing the time they spend looking at the road. Our Driver Focus-Telematics (DF-T) Guidelines were developed with input from a range of experts and are based on scientific research. The guidelines include principles that guide where systems are located, how information is presented to the driver, how drivers interact with these systems and much more. They ensure that new vehicle technologies are designed from stage one to assist the driver in driving safely.

After developing these principles, with input from a wide array of safety experts, we followed-up with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to put these guidelines into use. We then went further. We have updated the guidelines as our continued scientific understanding of driver distraction evolves.

Today, the evolution of our understanding of this issue is more critical than ever. We must address distracted driving, but we must do it without undercutting developing technologies that will help in making driving even safer.

Auto makers are working on important safety advancements right now that rely upon wireless communications as the backbone. In the near future, cars will be linked wirelessly to other cars in their vicinity and physical surroundings to, first and foremost, enhance road safety by informing drivers of hazards and situations they can't see. Real-Time Road Navigation will also be provided, which will be critical to advancing how we manage road congestion and even further reduce CO2 emissions from vehicles as we reduce the time a vehicle sits in traffic.

So what should be our roadmap from here? We need appropriate laws with high-visibility enforcement. The Alliance supports a ban on texting while driving using a hand-held device and a ban on calling while driving using a hand-held device unless in hands-free mode.

We need consumer education so drivers know that - even with the cutting-edge technology found in today's vehicles - driving distractions are a risk. Not just hand-held texting and hand-held calling but even a driver's eating, drinking, searching inside the car, trying to monitor children in the back seat -- anything that's prolonging a driver's "eyes-off-the-road time" presents a risk.

And we need continued research so we can further understand driver behaviors.

And all of this should be done without severing the wireless communication link to vehicles which enables tomorrow's safety and environmental benefits.

Dave McCurdy is president and CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers which represents BMW, Chrylser, Ford, General Motors, Jaguar Land Rover, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Porsche, Toyota and Volkswagen.