TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Driver distraction triggered by the avalanche of new information technology available in cars and trucks needs serious attention by auto makers and electronics suppliers to avoid regulation.

That’s the considered word from Jeff DeBest, Johnson Controls group vice president and general manager–global electronics.

“We’re going to need collaboration between the automotive and electronics industries or face more government regulation,” DeBest tells Ward’s in an interview at the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminars here.

Thirty-four states already ban texting while driving, and several cities outlaw holding cell phones while behind the wheel, he says.

One problem with broad regulation is “you’re fighting against what people basically want,” DeBest explains.

Still, technology is available to alleviate distraction concerns, he adds. “We’re now looking at what’s appropriate and trying to balance the safety aspects.”

Hands-on cell phone usage could be blocked, for example. “But the question is, would all phones in the car or only the driver’s be blocked?” DeBest says.

Auto makers – and JCI – support hands-free communication, but it’s not yet available on all models.

How to incorporate social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Skype into vehicles remains a challenge. The JCI executive acknowledges consumers are enamored by keeping in touch 24/7 on such networks.

DeBest visualizes more “harvesting” of existing vehicle intelligence to improve communication between the driver and outside sources. Systems such as General Motors’ OnStar have been available for many years, but so far have been limited to GM and its licensees.

Two years ago, JCI introduced what DeBest describes as a “medium” head-up display that pops up between the steering wheel and windshield to provide a variety of information on demand without seriously distracting the driver.

He claims it’s a major advance over head-up systems that project directly onto the windshield, which can be hard to read and usually show information in black and white. The JCI device displays multiple colors.

The device currently is available only on the Peugeot 3008 station wagon and Peugeot 5008 cross/utility. “We’re in the early stages with this, but there is lots of interest,” DeBest says.