NLA Agenda: Distracted Driving To Be Top Industry Concern of 2010

LCT Staff
Posted on January 29, 2010

LAS VEGAS, Nev. — As the push to ban hand-held cell phoning and texting gains critical speed across the U.S., chauffeured transportation operators are concerned the regulatory wave could encompass the crucial wireless modes of vehicle communication, such as Bluetooth headsets, needed to efficiently operate limousine and livery vehicles.

The challenge was Topic A at the quarterly board of directors meeting of the National Limousine Association held Sunday at the Palazzo/Venetian Resort Hotels/Casinos convention complex.

“This issue is teed up and ready to go,” said Louie Perry, the vice president of Cornerstone Government Affairs in Washington, D.C., the lobbying firm retained by the NLA to represent industry interests on Capitol Hill. “There is bound to be some legislation banning texting and cell phone use.”

Perry said the challenge is to ensure that any federal legislation be limited to manual, or hand-held use, of cell phones, iPhones, and PDAs. The NLA board agrees with the position that texting while driving and holding a cell phone while driving is hazardous and should be prohibited, and that safety should come first.

Perry and Cornerstone lobbyist Greg McDonald will be working with Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-New Jersey, to educate legislators on the key differences between manual and hands-free use of communication devices.

“We can live with the manual bans, but not things that ban wireless devices,” Perry said. “We need to go to the Hill and explain how the industry uses such devices.”

The board discussion about distracted driving happened just hours before USA Today posted a lead article on its Jan. 25 front page about how 23 states are debating legislation related to texting while driving, in addition to the 19 states that already have passed some bans on texting and/or cell phone use while driving. The article outlines the issue and debate.

In working to modify such legislation, board member Scott Solombrino, CEO of Boston-based Dav El Chauffeured Transportation Network, cautioned the board how it positions itself on cell phone driving legislation. “Texting is dangerous,” said Solombrino. “We shouldn’t fight it too much. If something bad happens, we’re going to have a public relations problem on our hands.”

Dawson Rutter, CEO of Boston-based Commonwealth Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation, cautioned the board about signing on to any erroneous legislation based on unclear evidence on whether wireless communicating is as distracting as manual cell phone use, texting, and/or driving drunk. More facts are needed, he said.

George Jacobs, CEO of Windy Limousine in Chicago, said the key to handling this issue is to accurately explain how the industry uses onboard electronic equipment. “We use two-way radios and wireless. We need to explain what we do and how we communicate safely.”

The industry got a strong taste of the distracted driving issue last fall when the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission passed strict rules on for-hire vehicle communication devices in response to safety concerns and outrage among riders about rude cabbies talking on cell phones. After some negotiations with area industry associations, including Limousine Associations of New Jersey, Luxury Base Operators Association, and Limousine Association of New York, the TLC modified some of the proposed rules to allow for essential emergency and dispatch communications via dashboard mounted, hands-free devices. Chauffeurs can still push a button, but not legally talk on Bluetooth cell phones.

The rules, which take effect on Friday, Jan. 29, only apply to for-hire vehicles licensed and registered with the TLC, explained industry lobbyist and LANJ executive director Barry Lefkowitz during an industry associations presidents meeting on Monday. Non TLC-registered chauffeured transportation companies that take clients in and out of New York City are covered by federal reciprocity and interstate commerce laws that prevent the TLC from applying its cell phone ban to such operators.

In other NLA board-related developments:

• The board elected Diane Forgy, owner and CEO of Overland Limousine in Kansas City, as its 2010 president; Richard Kane, CEO of International Limousine Service in Washington, D.C. as first vice president; the aforementioned Jacobs as second vice president; Stuart Rothstein, CEO of Smart Cars Worldwide in Chicago as Treasurer; and Barbara Curtis, CEO of Two-Step Limousine in Littleton, Col., (Denver area) as Secretary.

• Lobbyist Perry said prospects for passage of a RIDE Act amendment preventing facilities that receive federal funds, such as major airports, from singling out operators with access and licensing fees could be attached to either federal highway funding reauthorization or Federal Aviation Administration funding bills. He and his lobbying team are working with key legislators to get the measure attached to such a major piece of legislation to be passed in 2010.

• The distracted driving and RIDE Act measures will be top agenda items for the NLA’s annual Day On The Hill lobbying effort scheduled for Wednesday, April 28. Industry leaders and association members will meet at the Churchill Hotel in Washington, D.C.

• Perry also gave an overview of the political outlook for 2010, which has shifted dramatically in just one year because of Republican gubernatorial victories in Virginia and New Jersey, the upset win of Republican Scott Brown in the Massachusetts Senate race, polls showing probable strong gains among GOP Congressional candidates this fall, and increased division in the Democratic Party among centrist and left-wing politicians. Overall, the stymied, contentious atmosphere in Washington, D.C. will stave off the worst elements of legislative proposals harmful to small and medium-sized businesses, Perry said. That means health care overhauls, climate change legislation, and union-driven card-check legislation are all dead in the water in their present forms, but could still be resurrected in weakened and/or splintered pieces of more bi-partisan legislation, Perry said.

Source: Martin Romjue, LCT Magazine

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