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LaHood Treks to MIT to Find Ways to Reduce Distracted Driving

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Advocates for defensive driving may forget that we have a transportation secretary, or rather, they might have if current office holder Ray LaHood wasn't going on a national blitz to try and eradicated distracted driving.

LaHood has been working with Toyota to get its cars to stop accelerating, even levying a $16.4 million judgment against the Japanese automaker over its failure to actively address the situation of unintended acceleration.

In recent weeks, he's also been working on the problem of distracted driving. His office has a sample bill that any state can use to begin legislation banning the use of cell phones for texting purposes while a vehicle is in motion, or stopped depending on legislators' needs. Now, after teaming up with Oprah Winfrey to promote a "No Phone Zone" in cars, LaHood is trying to work on ways to prevent the problem.

To do so, he ventured up to Cambridge, Massachusetts to enlist the aid of both students and faculty in addressing three needs:

1 The development of applications that block a driver's mobile phone without affecting passengers. LaHood argues that while many applications can be installed to limit texting while a car is in motion, the implementation is not widespread.

2 How to help law enforcement officers detect whether or not a cell phone is being used to text. Since cell phones can be placed beneath the level of a patrolman's line of sight into a vehicle, officers have told LaHood that enforcing the new laws can be difficult due to lack of evidence.

3 Building a car that can avoid both other vehicles and roadside obstacles if the driver loses control. The design would enable more safety even if the other two systems failed.

Online traffic school courses and other education programs can show motorists the consequences of their actions and how to avoid risky behaviors, but the secretary's self-described "rampage" is meant to hit the problem from all angles.

"These horrible losses are 100% preventable; this has to stop," he noted in his blog. "And that's why today I'm appealing to the MIT community, among America's best and brightest, for help. I'm asking them to use their prodigious research skills to help us end this epidemic through these three different avenues."

While cell phone use is a cause celebre among many in the government and media, other actions that can't be controlled technologically have also impacted lives and aroused the attention of reporters.

Lora Hunt, 49, was polishing her nails when she lost control of her vehicle and struck a motorcycle operated by another woman, who died in the crash. Hunt was convicted by a jury of reckless homicide, according to the Chicago Tribune, and could face up to five years in prison.

"It is not the same as biting a sandwich … it's a voluntary disablement," the prosecutor added in his closing arguments, according to the newspaper. "She might as well have been in the back seat making a sandwich."