DOT’s Ray LaHood Calls for Total Cell Phone Ban for Drivers
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has called for a ban on all talking and texting on cell phones while driving any vehicle in the country. He urged the strengthening of the law at the Texas Distracted Driving Summit in San Antonio, Texas, on Thursday, and wrote about the issue on Friday, on his Fast Lane blog: “… [I]n light of two new studies, one by our own National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and one by Bridgestone, distracted driving is still a dangerous epidemic, particularly among our youngest drivers.”
As Jim Forsyth writes in a Reuters article in the Chicago Tribune, “LaHood has previously criticized behind-the-wheel use of cell phones and other devices, but calling for a federal law prohibiting the practice takes his effort to a new level.”
The Washington Post’s Post Local, Ashley Halsey III reports that according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 5,474 people died and 448,000 were injured in 2009 car accidents because of distracted driving. She notes that although public awareness of the dangers of distracted driving have increased since LaHood began his crusade against it three years ago, “surveys and the personal observation of individual drivers show that awareness of the risk hasn’t significantly reduced use.”
Halsey goes on to say:
In a national survey [PDF] by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 69 percent said that they had talked on their cellphones while driving within the past 30 days and 24 percent admitted to texting or e-mailing while driving. […]
The National Safety Council [PDF] reported that drivers using cellphones look but fail to see up to 50 percent of the information in their driving environment. A Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study of truck drivers found that they were 163 times more likely to have an accident or near accident if a driver is texting, e-mailing or accessing the Internet.
The New England Journal of Medicine reported [PDF] that a person using a cellphone when driving is four times more likely to have a crash that will result in going to the hospital.
According to Forsyth, Gary Biller, president of the National Motorists Association, said there are already enough laws covering driving while using a cell phone, and that it would be more productive to have campaigns that discourage other forms of distracted driving, like talking to passengers and tuning the radio.
LaHood said, however, he was not as concerned about people who eat, apply makeup, or perform other distracting activities in cars because ‘not everyone does that.’
‘But everyone has a cell phone and too many of us think it is OK to talk on our phones while we are driving,’ he said at the summit, sponsored by insurance company USAA, the Texas Department of Transportation and Shriners Hospitals for Children.
LaHood compared the current problem with distracted driving with that of drunk driving 30 years ago. “It used to be that if an officer pulled you over for drunk driving, he would pat you on the back, maybe call you a cab or take you home, but he wouldn’t arrest you. Now that has changed, and the same enforcement can work for people who talk on cell phones while driving,” he said. Forsyth reports that LaHood also said he has called the CEOs of major car companies and urged them to “think twice” before adding too many Internet-based systems to new cars.
Meanwhile, the National Safety Council (NSC) has issued a press release about the potential liability employers face when their employees are involved in crashes caused by cell phone use. NSC explains the need for “organization-wide bans that include hands-free and handheld devices.”
Image by Texas Distracted Driving Summit, used under Fair Use: Reporting.