The senate, the Department of Transportation and the FCC want you to stop texting while driving, and on Wednesday, they all but declared a war on texting, promising education campaigns and laws to convince you to put your phone down — at least while you are piloting a two-ton SUV going 70 mph.
In a Senate hearing Wednesday, using a mobile phone while driving was said to be more dangerous than drunk driving, the cause of 16 percent of fatal accidents in the United States and a “perfect storm” of distraction.
Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood concluded his testimony by calling texting while driving a “menace to society,” saying the department’s research showed that 6,000 people a year died because it distracted drivers of all kinds. Here are some excerpts from the Secretary’s blog on this topic:
Here’s a start: Experts agree that there are three types of distraction–
Visual – taking your eyes off the road;
Manual – taking your hands off the wheel; and
Cognitive – taking your mind off the road.
While all distractions can adversely impact safety, texting is particularly troubling because it involves all three types of distraction. In the words of Dr. John Lee of the University of Wisconsin, this produces a “perfect storm.”
Not convinced? Our latest research shows that nearly 6,000 people died last year in crashes involving a distracted driver, and more than half a million people were injured.
At issue is the Distracted Driving Prevention Act of 2009 (.pdf) that Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) and Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey) introduced Wednesday that seeks to ban texting while driving, a category that includes using a PDA, checking e-mail on a BlackBerry or manipulating a GPS unit with your hand. The bill (S. 1938) also targets drivers who make calls without using a headset. Texting or calling while pulled over on the side of the road is fine, but not while at a red light.
Rockefeller noted ”Nowadays, you have to text or you are not with it — you are not educated. But it’s lethal behavior when you get in a car.” He wants some sort of phone-blocking device installed in cars, presumably one that knows the difference between a driver’s phone and passengers’ phones.
Rockefeller seemed to recognize that perhaps the only thing more dangerous than texting while driving is trying to take the media spotlight from Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York), and so let him testify at the hearing on the Rockefeller-Lautenberg bill because Schumer had introduced the Alert Drivers Act earlier this year.
By contrast Schumer’s bill would withhold 25 percent of federal transportation funding from states that don’t implement strong anti-texting while driving rules, a tactic Congress has used in the past to force states to lower their speed limits and raise the drinking age to 21.
A bill, possibly a combination of the two, is likely to pass eventually, given that President Obama just unilaterally banned federal employees from texting while driving federal vehicles (starting in 2010) and even mobile carriers like Sprint support the idea.
For all those interested, Secretary LaHood has been doing rounds in the hill ever since he held that Distracted Driving Summit. Today he went back to Congress to talk about distracted driving. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee wanted information on the dangers of distracted driving, and he was more than willing to talk to them about this issue which he calls an “epidemic.” You can hear he the Secretary’s input on the Committee’s website.
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