Car companies ramp up efforts to combat distracted driving

Car manufacturers are planning to emphasize their tools to minimize the dangers of distracted driving later this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Auto companies have become fixtures at the show--often showing off their latest dashboard gadgets and technologies that sync up with your iPods, GPS devices and cellphones. This year, a big focus will be on hands-free technologies that let drivers pay attention to the road rather than their phones. These will be welcome developments to members of the House and Senate Commerce Committees, who have recently held hearings about the need to ban cellphone use--particularly for texting--while behind the wheel. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has also been a vocal proponent of the cause.

Kia Motors America and Microsoft are partnering to create a way to allow drivers and passengers to make calls and control car radio and audio systems through voice commands. The system is called UVO and will be available in cars by the end of this year.

Kia's UVO will be a direct competitor to Ford Motor Co.'s Sync system, also using Microsoft technology. Ford's Sync has been on the market but new features--like wireless Internet access--are expected to be introduced at the massive trade show in the Nevada desert this week. Ford CEO Alan Mulally will deliver one of the first keynote addresses Thursday morning, the first full day of the show.

Ford endorsed Sen. Charles Schumer's (D-NY) bill to ban texting while driving. 

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski told lawmakers last year that his agency would look into new technologies that could be used to keep drivers focused on the road. He'll likely be stopping by the car companies' displays as he tours the show floor this week.

Hillicon Valley will also be there, bringing you new updates on the anticipated product unveilings.