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Driver Distraction Summit Gets Strong Response

9/28/2009 03:17:05 PM Eastern

Washington - A summit to explore reducing crashes and deaths due to driver distraction is expecting more than 200 attendees, plus additional Webcast participants, on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 in Washington and on the web, said the FederalDept. of Transportation (DOT), which is sponsoring the summit.

The summit will explore the impact of texting, emailing and navigating while driving, said the DOT.  

Parrot, maker of Bluetooth devices, said it supports the summit and noted that 81 percent of cellphone owners admit to talking on phones while driving and 20 percent of drivers in the United States send text messages while operating a car or truck, according to a 2008 study by Nationwide Insurance.

DOT secretary Ray LaHood said, "This summit will give safety leaders from across the nation a forum to identify, target and tackle the fundamental elements of this problem."

There is some controversy over the utility of hands-free equipment in reducing driver distraction. Research from a federal agency found that the conversation itself on the phone, rather than holding the phone, causes the distraction.

 Ford, however, has cited studies claiming its Sync radios with voice input and hands-free calling can reduce driver distraction.

Parrot says some of the studies are not specific in what they are measuring. Some include holding the phone in one's hands with the phone on speakerphone as hands-free driving. Consumers responding to studies also confuse Bluetooth with a headset, said Parrot.

"Finally, we have yet to read a study that specifically tests a modern, fully integrated solution, like our installed Parrot car kits," said Parrot marketing director for North America Kelly Zachos.

Among the findings in a 2003 study  recently made public by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was that cellphones used by drivers caused around 955 fatalities in 2002 as well as 240,000 accidents.

During the Distracted Drivers Summit, senior transportation officials, elected officials, safety advocates, law enforcement representatives and academics will meet to develop recommendations on ways to prevents distracted driving.

The Webcast may be heard here.

The consumer electronics industry sold to retailers in 2008 about $1 billion in Bluetooth headsets and about $59 million in car stereo hands-free kits, said the Consumer Electronics Association.

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