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Update: Lobbying document shows pitch for clients to fight against distracted driving

Updated: with statement from Department of Transportation

Lobbyists in Washington see an opportunity in the national distracted driving debate and have prepared a pitch to cell phone companies, car manufacturers, insurance and public safety groups to fight against what they say could lead to a full ban on cell phones while driving.

Seward Square Group and Eris Group, in a presentation obtained by non-profit Web site FairWarning, outlines a lobbying and communications strategy to contain what began as a debate about texting and driving but “morphed into a full-throttle assault on mobile technology.”

The Department of Transportation on Thursday underscored that the issue is a priority. In 2008, 6,000 people died because of distracted driving incidents. The New York Times' explored the issue in depth with a series of stories on texting and driving.

"Secretary LaHood believes that distracted driving is a dangerous and growing problem that threatens the lives of Americans," said DOT spokeswoman Olivia Alair. "We are doing everything possible to combat talking on the phone and texting while driving and others who care about safety will join our effort – not undermine it.”

In their presentation pitch, the groups said they would form the DRIVE (Drivers for Responsible, Innovation and Vehicle Education) Coalition, led by former National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Jim Hall (a lobbyist for Seward Square), to ward off any regulation or legislation at the Department of Transportation, the Federal Communications Commission or the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

Eris Group, a boutique communications lobbying firm, said its name appears on the presentation but that it withdrew its support of the project when its clients said the effort presents conflicts. Seward didn’t respond to several requests for comment.

The coalition hasn’t attracted any members yet, but the document provides a rare glimpse into the strategies of K street operatives to seize on a national debate about distracted driving. Text messaging while driving was years ago described by wireless companies as a overblown threat. Those firms have since come around to support legislation that would ban texting and driving – a campaign led by Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood. Please check out my colleague, Ashley Halsey's profile yesterday of Lahood.

Indeed, Seward identifies Lahood and Oprah Winfrey as the biggest threats to the cell phone, automobile, GPS, and insurance industries that stand to lose from regulations that would prohibit the use of devices while driving.

“With industries remaining silent, national transportation authorities and media celebrities have hijacked the debate, a dire consequence to reasonable regulation,” the lobbying firm wrote in its proposal.

By Cecilia Kang  |  July 1, 2010; 11:09 AM ET
Categories:  Mobile  
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I think legislation is critical for raising public awareness but we can’t solely legislate our way out of this issue. I just read that 72% of teens text daily - many text more than 3000 times a month. This issue is in its infancy and its not going away.

I decided to do something about it after my three year old daughter was nearly run down right in front of me by a texting driver . Instead of a shackle that locks down phones and alienates the user (especially teens) I built a tool that is a simple app for smartphones - low cost, no recurring fees. We can empower the individual and change will come to our highways now and not just our laws.

Erik Wood, owner

Posted by: ErikWood | July 1, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse

There are technologies that will jam a driver's space only preventing him or her from using a cell phone while driving while allowing passengers to do so. The FCC refuses to approve these simple devices.

Ray LaHood was a dim bulb in Peoria and he is a dim bulb in Washington.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | July 2, 2010 7:59 AM | Report abuse

If these lobbyists succeed, people are going to die.

Posted by: sjpatejak | July 2, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

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