A Mazda Super Bowl ad showcasing the connected capabilities of its new cars became the poster child for distracted driving during a day-long summit held by the Senate commerce committee.
The ad showed a a fleeting glimpse of a driver updating his Facebook page from the center console as he was driving down the road.
That set off alarm bells among committee staffers worried that cars, device and software manufacturers are headed in a direction that could lead to distracted drivers and more accidents.
"Technology may be part of our daily habits, but using these devices while driving is becoming a fatal vice that threatens to undo the remarkable progress we have made to improve highway safety," wrote Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the commerce committee, in Roll Call. "I see no reason drivers should be able to update their social-media profiles or compare restaurant and hotel reviews while behind the wheel," he added.
The challenge for the auto industry is that people people want to stay connected in the car. The auto industry is seeking to make smartphone use hands-free and eyes-free.
"The customer won't be happy if your car shuts down your phone. What we have to do is convince the customer to put the phone down by providing integrated hands-free features," said Wayne Powell, vp of electronic systems for Toyota Motor engineering and manufacturing.
A lot of the dialogue addressed what could be done to the phone that would put it in a "drive mode" and who should have control over that function: The driver? The car manufacturer? The network? That will be part of a continuing tug-of-war between handset companies and auto companies.
Based on what they hear during the summit, Rockefeller and other lawmakers may seek to limit certain connected functions in the car, unless all the industries involved in developing the connected car, mobile-device makers, software developers, automakers and wireless carriers collaborate to make sure the connected car is safe.
"It is my hope and expectation that the summit will spur industries to proactively seek technological solutions that can be widely adopted, readily available, and highlight to the public the life-or-death matter of staying focused behind the wheel," Rockefeller said.