Stamping out the operation of motor vehicles while talking or texting on a cellphone—or distracted driving—will be the focus of a new U.S. campaign, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said on Thursday.
Distracted driving was described by LaHood as an epidemic affecting Americans, saying in a press conference in Washington D.C. that concrete steps will be taken to curb it.
Distracted driving was described by LaHood as an epidemic affecting Americans.
“While we’ve made progress in the past three years by raising awareness about this risky behavior, the simple fact is people are continuing to be killed and injured—and we can put an end to it,” LaHood said in a statement.
The transportation secretary said that personal responsibility “is a good first step,” but stressed that the government should pass stronger laws and educate drivers.
LaHood’s office singled out people under the age of 25 as the drivers most likely to talk or text on a cellphone while driving, adding that they are three times more likely to engage in the practice.
A recent survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one in three teenage drivers across the United States admitted to sending or reading a text while driving.
LaHood said his office is going to pressure the 11 states that have no laws on distracted driving to pass and enforce legislation against the practice. Other measures include pressing the auto industry to establish new guidelines that will improve education on the dangers of distracted driving and reduce the potential for it.
The plan is expanding on a pilot program that was instated in Syracuse, N.Y., Hartford, Conn., and several other areas.
Delaware and California will get $2.4 million in federal grants to test whether police crackdowns and public education programs will curb distracted driving. LaHood said similar efforts last year in Hartford and Syracuse caused a respective 72 percent and 32 percent downswing in distracted driving.
“We know from the success of national efforts like ‘Click It or Ticket’ that combining good laws with effective enforcement and a strong public education campaign can—and does—change unsafe driving behavior,” said David Strickland, administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
At least 3,092 people were killed in accidents linked to distracted driving in 2010, which accounts for nearly one in 10 traffic fatalities, according to the Department of Transportation’s figures.
In a recent poll commissioned by the department, more than three-fourths of drivers who were surveyed said they are willing to answer phone calls on at least some car trips. Respondents said that there are only few situations where they would not answer a phone call or a text message while driving.“And yet [they] reported feeling unsafe when riding in vehicles in which the driver is texting, and supported bans on texting and cellphone use,” the DOT said. Nearly all respondents, or around 90 percent, reported that they considered a driver sending a text message or reading a text message to be highly unsafe.
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