Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Ford Supports Ban on Handheld Cell Phone Use by Drivers

STONEHAM, Mass. -- Ford has recently become the first automaker to throw their support behind a bill written by U.S. Representative Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y. that would create a nationwide ban on using handheld cell phones while driving, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Numerous states have already implemented bans on handheld phone use, ranging from texting to making calls at all, but the federal government has yet to chime in on the subject. Massachusetts passed a law banning texting while driving in 2010, but handheld cell phone use remains legal for non-junior operators in the state, with many seeing it as a serious danger for drivers that already have enough distractions

“It’s about time we start tackling the problem of distracted drivers nationally, and cell phones should absolutely be at the top of the list,” said Alan Melkonian, owner and general manager of Massachusetts Ford dealership Stoneham Ford. “I’m very pleased that Ford has been proactive about supporting this bill, even as other automakers are still burying their heads in the sand. When it comes to driver safety, we can’t delay any longer.”

According to a 2006 study by the University of Utah, using a cell phone while driving delays the driver’s reaction time as much as being at the legal blood alcohol limit of 0.8 percent, and a 2009 study by Virginia Tech reported that dialing on a cell phone made it nearly three times more likely that a car driver would be involved in a crash or near-crash situation. In addition, drivers performing the same act in a heavy vehicle or truck increased the likelihood of a crash by nearly six times. With an ever-increasing mountain of evidence, auto manufacturers and legislators are finding ways to get cell phones out of drivers’ hands.

Automakers have been keen on introducing technology into their vehicles that enable hands-free operation of phones – an action that would remain legal should the new legislation pass. Ford offers affordable access to this technology through its SYNC software, which allows calling through voice commands and buttons on the steering wheel with most Bluetooth-enabled phones. SYNC is available across the Ford lineup, either as standard feature or as a $400 option. The automaker is also working with Burlington, Massachusetts-based Nuance Communications to improve the system’s vocabulary and ability to decipher the intent of the driver should they use unrecognized commands.

In an effort to stay ahead of the curve of growing smartphone usage, Ford is expanding and improving its SYNC AppLink offering, which grants users voice-controlled access to smartphone apps like Pandora internet radio, a service that drivers might otherwise access with their hands while driving. Currently available on the 2011 Ford Fiesta, SYNC AppLink will be featured in 10 Ford vehicles for the 2012 model year.

“Ford isn’t just saying that driving while talking on cell phones is dangerous and then leaving it at that,” Melkonian added. “They are investing a lot of time and resources into improving the situation. Ford has proved that the technology to create safer highways is out there and drivers don’t have to be in a luxury sedan to have access to it. It makes our team proud to be working at a Ford dealership.”