Posted by: Martin Fox | August 4, 2009

U.S. Agency Plans Meeting on Distracted Driving

Public service announcement to our readers… We narrowly avoided being rear-ended on Sunday by a distracted texter who swerved around us at the last second to avoid a collision – he then proceded to run another driver off the road in the process. I’m not surprised the accident rate of texters is 23 times higher than those who do not text. Please don’t kill yourself or the family in the other car – your text can wait until you pull over or reach your destination.

The Center for Global Leadership wants you to stay alive. Please don’t text while driving.

Peace out – Martin Fox with the Center for Global Leadership.

U.S. Agency Plans Meeting on Distracted Driving

WASHINGTON — The Transportation Department will convene a meeting of safety experts and others concerned about the dangers of text-messaging and cell phone use while driving, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said on Tuesday.

“If it were up to me, I would ban drivers from texting, but unfortunately, laws aren’t always enough,” Mr. LaHood said.

Mr. LaHood said he hoped to bring together transportation and safety officials from around the country, as well as members of Congress, law enforcement officials and others concerned about what happens when drivers do not give full attention to controlling their vehicles. The session may be held in September, he said.

The call for a summit follows recent studies showing the dangers of text-messaging while driving. A study released in late July by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, for example, found that truck drivers face a 23 times greater risk of crashing or nearly crashing when texting than when not doing so.

“We’ve learned from past safety awareness campaigns that it takes a coordinated strategy combining education and enforcement to get results,” Mr. LaHood said. “That’s why this meeting with experienced officials, experts and law enforcement will be such a crucial first step in our efforts to put an end to distracted driving.”

“The bottom line is, distracted driving is dangerous driving,” Mr. LaHood said.

As cell phones have become commonplace over the past decade or so, many municipalities have enacted regulations demanding that drivers use only cell phones connected to headsets, so that a driver can keep both hands on the wheel.

But some safety experts are concerned that any kind of cell phone, even the hands-free type, creates a dangerous distraction. For that reason, New York City cab drivers have been prohibited for a decade from using any kind of cell phone while driving, though enforcement of that rule has been rare.

Texting while driving is currently banned in 14 states, including Alaska, California and New Jersey, as well as in the District of Columbia. The legislature in New York recently passed such a measure and sent it to the governor for his signature.

Regulation of the roadways generally happens at the state level. But the federal government has exerted pressure on the states based on the threat of withholding federal highway funds, as Congress did in 1984 to press states to raise their minimum drinking ages to 21 years.

“We’ve learned from our efforts to get people to wear seatbelts, and to persuade people not to drink and drive, that laws aren’t always enough,” Mr. LaHood said. “Often, you need to combine education with enforcement to get results.”

“When we are done, I expect to have a list of concrete steps to announce,” Mr. LaHood said.

The focus on cell phone use and driving may become another chapter in the changing standards of highway safety. Drivers of a certain age can recall when there were no seat belts in cars, let alone airbags, and when a drunk driver could arrange to plead guilty to reckless driving or another traffic offense, rather than be charged with a crime.

“People in America got fed up with their children and loved ones being killed by drunk drivers,” Mr. LaHood said. “And people in America are very tired of the idea that people can text and drive, and use cell phones and drive, in some states.”


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