U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has announced a summit meeting next month to “address the dangers of text-messaging and other distractions behind the wheel.”
In late September, senior transportation officials, elected officials, safety advocates, law enforcement representatives and academics will convene in Washington, DC to discuss ideas about how to combat distracted driving.
The summit appears to be a response to charges that the Department of Transportation, the government agency responsible for traffic safety, has been suppressing studies showing just how bad the problem is, and, worse, for bowing to Congressional pressure not to pursue regulations that would save lives.
But once again the announcement skirts the core safety issue, cell phone use, which produces accident rates the equivalent of drunk driving.
Public Citizen and the Center for Auto Safety have charged that since 2003, the government has known that drivers talking on their cell phones experience the same potentially deadly distraction whether they are using a handheld device or hands-free technology. The pressure groups made the accusations after a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act obtained internal documents from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is part of DOT.
The suppressed evidence and opinions by safety experts advising NHTSA have since been confirmed by numerous independent studies.
“If it were up to me, I would ban drivers from texting, but unfortunately, laws aren’t always enough,” said LaHood. “We’ve learned from past safety awareness campaigns that it takes a coordinated strategy combining education and enforcement to get results. 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.”