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DOT Pressures Law and Auto Makers over DD

Transportation Secretary LaHood calls a Second Distracted Driving Summit as Congress, industry ignore the deadly issue.

by on Jul.28, 2010

Particularly lethal is the widespread use of cell phones, now a global problem.

While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is prohibited by the U.S. Congress from promulgating regulations concerning distracted driving, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has been using his “bully pulpit” to oppose the well financed auto, electronics and cell phone lobbies whose devices are enabling almost 6,000 deaths each year and more than 500,000 injuries. (See Smart Phones Add to Distracted Driving Epidemic)

Congress is showing no interest, to put it politely, on telling voters to stop using cell phones during an election year when all incumbents face ousting from angry voters.

Auto companies have their own conflicts of financial interest in this area, as they compete with each other to add more electronic devices to equipment lists. (See BMW to Offer Incoming E-Mail with Voice Output and DC Showdown over Distracted Driving Lobbyists)

Therefore there is no surprise in this bureau that LaHood has just announced that a second National Distracted Driving Summit will be held on 21 September 2010 in Washington, DC. More than 100 million people each day are now engaging in dangerous distracted driving behavior.

Particularly lethal is the widespread use of cell phones. The issue is not the type of phone a driver uses, rather it is the distraction caused by the conversation. In spite of auto industry assertions, the fact is that hands-free devices do not make cell phones any safer. Several studies indicate that the principle risk is the cognitive distraction of anything that diverts attention while driving.

Studies also show that driving while talking on a cell phone is extremely dangerous and puts drivers at a four times greater crash risk – essentially the equivalent of drunken  driving. More than 20% of all crashes a year now involve some type of distraction. That’s the reason the National Safety Council urged a total ban on using cell phones while driving last year after conducting research that confirmed previous studies on just how dangerous cell phones are.

So once again Secretary LaHood will summon leading transportation officials, safety advocates, law enforcement, industry representatives, researchers, and victims affected by distraction-related crashes to identify opportunities for national anti-distracted driving efforts.

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“Working together, we can put an end to the thousands of needless deaths and injuries caused by distracted driving each year,” said Secretary LaHood, and Illinois Republican. “By getting the best minds together, I believe we can figure out how to get people to put down their phones and pay attention to the road.”

Last fall, Secretary LaHood prompted a national debate on distracted driving when he held the first Distracted Driving Summit in Washington, DC.

The Democratic Obama Administration immediately issued an Executive Order banning all text messaging by four million federal employees while they’re driving government-owned vehicles, while driving any vehicle on official government business, or using mobile devices issued by the government while behind the wheel.

Secretary LaHood also taped a national PSA and launched a new government website – www.distraction.gov – to provide the public with a comprehensive resource about how to get involved.

At this year’s event, topics will include research, technology, policy, public outreach, and best practices in enforcement.

In the year since Secretary LaHood convened the first Distracted Driving Summit, efforts to curb distracted driving have grown exponentially. Dozens of state and local governments have enacted anti-distracted driving legislation and the federal government has established texting bans for commercial truck and bus drivers.

The Department of Transportation also helped victims establish a national non-profit advocacy organization called FocusDriven and launched pilot law enforcement campaigns in Hartford, CT and Syracuse, NY.

To learn more and get involved in the DOT’s efforts to stop distracted driving, please visit www.distraction.gov. Additional details will be released as they become available at www.distraction.gov/2010summit.

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