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DOT Secretary Opens Distracted Driving Summit

Hand-Held Device Use Increasing Among All Drivers.

by on Sep.30, 2009

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Nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in crashes involving a distracted driver.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today challenged more than 250 safety experts, industry representatives, elected officials and members of the public to help put an end to distracted driving.

“Every single time someone takes their eyes or their focus off the road – even for just a few seconds – they put their lives and the lives of others in danger,” said Secretary LaHood. “Distracted driving is unsafe, irresponsible and in a split second, its consequences can be devastating.”

The Secretary’s plea opened a two-day Distracted Driving Summit in Washington, DC that will highlight the under-recognized dangers of distracted behavior behind the wheel.

Secretary LaHood also announced new research findings by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that show nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in crashes involving a distracted or inattentive driver, and more than half a million were injured.  There are more than six million accidents each year in the U.S.

On any given day in 2008, more than 800,000 vehicles were driven by someone using a hand-held cell phone. Numbers for hand-free cell use were not revealed, as they are difficult to compile.

As expected, the debate continued late into the afternoon over how serious cognitive distraction is in all types of cell phone use. Studies by the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety and the University of Utah show the use of either type of cell phone increases accident risk four or five times.

But Not From The Car!

But Not From the Car!

It became clearer from comments from panel participants and government researchers as the day progressed that the Federal government will regulate devices that take a driver’s eyes off the road. It also appears that the use of hand held phone use would be banned.

Calls for a cultural shift in how Americans view safe driving

Across the board, federal researchers who have directly observed drivers of all ages found that more and more people are using a variety of hand-held devices while driving – not just cell phones, but also iPods, video games, Blackberrys and GPS systems, LaHood said.

In particular, cell phone use for talking and texting is now more prevalent on our nation’s roads, rail systems and waterways, carrying a dangerous potential for accidents.

NHTSA’s research shows that the worst offenders are the youngest drivers: men and women less than 20 years of age.

“We now know that the worst offenders are the youngest, least experienced drivers,” said Secretary LaHood. “Unfortunately though, the problem doesn’t end there. Distracted driving occurs across all age groups and all modes of transportation, from cars to buses and trucks to trains. We must work together to find solutions that will prevent crashes caused by driver distraction.”

To study further how cell phone distraction affects commercial truck and motor coach drivers, Secretary LaHood also announced a new study the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is undertaking this month through June 2010. The study will help FMCSA understand the prevalence of cell phone distraction in conjunction with crashes and near-crashes.

The two-day Summit has brought together safety experts, researchers, industry representatives, elected officials and members of the public to share their expertise, experiences and ideas for reducing distracted driving behavior and addressing the safety risk posed by the growing problem across all modes of transportation.

Speakers from around the nation have been invited to lead interactive sessions on a number of key topics including the extent and impact of distracted driving, current research, regulations and best practices. At the summit’s conclusion, Secretary LaHood will announce concrete steps the Department is taking to combat this problem.

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