Government Recruits MIT to Help Stop Distracted Driving

The U.S. Department of Transportation has enlisted the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in its effort to stop drivers from using cellphones behind the wheel.

Ray LaHood, secretary of transportation, spoke at MIT on Monday as part of a university lecture series. According to his blog, he solicited scholars at Transportation@MIT, a multidisciplinary program, to use “their prodigious research skills to help us end this epidemic.”

Mr. LaHood has used his office to launch what he calls a “rampage” against talking on cellphones and sending text messages, among other distracting activities, while driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that nearly 6,000 people died and more than half a million were injured in 2008 in crashes involving distracted drivers.

MIT will look at how to best enforce laws about texting while driving. For example, Mr. LaHood said, could its engineers devise roadside methods for police to discern if a driver is using electronics?

He also hope that MIT researchers can develop an app that blocks potentially distracting devices for a driver without interfering with passenger devices.

Cynthia Barnhart, an associate dean of engineering, said that LaHood’s challenge would not necessarily alter MIT’s research plans, but that the university would pull together its research for the government’s use.

Transportation@MIT, which involves 240 faculty members led by Ms. Barnart, was created last year. “We’re living in a world where there’s a growing demand for mobility,” she said. “Our current systems are in such a place where they can’t support even current demand, much less future demand.”

According to his blog, LaHood also called on MIT to:

• Design a vehicle emitting no greenhouse gases.
• Build a car that does not crash.
• Engineer a “green revolution” that alters how energy is generated and consumed.


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