this is the logo of DOTs September 2009 Distracted Driving Summit

Big Federal Push to Ban Distracted Driving

President Obama signed an executive order Wednesday night telling federal employees not to text while operating a government vehicle or a private vehicle on government business and asking federal contractors to do likewise.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood concluded the Distracted Driving Summit in Washington, D.C., today by announcing a new executive order that was signed the previous evening by President Obama. The order tells federal employees not to text while operating a government vehicle or a private vehicle on government business and asks federal contractors to set similar policies. LaHood, who called the summit "probably the most important meeting in the history of the Department of Transportation," said the approximately 150 people who attended in person and 5,000 viewing the event live online are beginning "a journey that will save lives and save injuries."

He also announced specific actions DOT will take against distracted driving:

  • Make permanent the current, interim restriction on use of cell phones and other electronic devices by rail operators
  • Ban texting by truck and bus operators
  • Disqualify commercial vehicle drivers convicted of texting while driving violations from regaining their CMV licenses

LaHood also said DOT will urge the state governments that do not already ban texting while driving to do so, and he said DOT will especially encourage states to ban texting by school bus drivers.

Today's portion of the summit dealt with enforcement, legislation, and awareness of the problem, particularly among young drivers. The final speaker, Dr. Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said public education on this issue should start with three points:

  • Limiting phone use while driving reduces crash risk.
  • Manual texting while driving is especially risky.
  • The act of talking while driving raises the risk and occupies more time.

"It's actually unknown whether any of the bans we currently have have reduced crash risks," Lund said. "Simply passing a law doesn't work -- you have to be able to enforce it." And he noted the large increase in cell phone use has not been matched by a large increase in vehicle crashes.

During a Q&A session afterward, the head of the Shreya R. Dixit Memorial Foundation in Eden Prairie, Minn., announced the foundation will offer a $5,001 annual scholarship for the best essay by a young person explaining how he or she made distraction-free driving possible and contributed to preventing distracted driving.

On Wednesday, AAA and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety announced they are observing Oct. 5-11 as Heads Up Driving Week and hope drivers will commit to being distraction-free during the week. Distracted driving contributes to as many as 8,000 crashes daily, the organizations say, and 80 percent of drivers consider distracted driving a serious threat. Yet two-thirds of drivers admit driving while talking on a cell phone. "This 'do as I say, not as I do' attitude must change if we are going to stop crashes and fatalities caused by distracted drivers," AAA and the foundation said on their Web page announcing the week.

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