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Seward Square drops anti-distracted driving lobby plans

Seward Square Group said Wednesday that it scrapped its lobbying effort to contain a debate over distracted driving, after Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called a news conference criticizing the group.

In a statement, Seward said its proposed coalition – discovered in a client presentation obtained by FairWarning – was to focus the debate on enforcement and not on banning phones in cars. We wrote about the document leak last week.

“Our collaborative effort simply sought to expand the discussion to include other common forms of driver distraction,” Seward Square said in a statement.

With LaHood’s comment Wednesday morning on enforcement measures against texting and driving, the lobbying firm said it believes “that the concept has met its goal of expanding dialogue on distracted driving, therefore the coalition is no longer being pursued.”

To be sure, Seward didn’t have any clients signed up for its nascent Drivers for Responsible Innovation and Vehicle Education. Communications firm Eris Group, which is on the client slide deck, said it was in the early stages; the group dropped its association from Seward’s effort after FairWarning published the presentation.

Nonetheless, LaHood took the opportunity to reaffirm that he would keep the “pedal to the metal” on the issue, “in spite of a new effort to rile up the electronics industry and derail our coalition.”

Aside from the Seward Square effort, the Consumer Electronics Association has fought state legislation that would ban the use of any technology in cars. It supports limitations but stresses the need for scientific research on how some technologies – such as voice-activated GPS technology – affects the focus on drivers as compared with other distractions such as paper maps.

At a news conference called to relay that message, Jim Hall, former head of the National Transportation Safety Board, said he was behind LaHood and that he agreed to be part of the coalition but said it was misrepresented to him. Hall is an adviser to Seward Square and said he was involved in meetings about the proposed coalition but didn't agree with its focus.

By Cecilia Kang  |  July 7, 2010; 1:58 PM ET
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