Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Wednesday kicked off a two-day Distracted Driving Summit in Washington, D.C.
The conference will highlight the under-recognized dangers of distracted behavior behind the wheel as texting and computer use by truck drivers is under fire.
“Every single time someone takes their eyes or their focus off the road -- even for just a few seconds -- they put their lives and the lives of others in danger,” said Secretary LaHood. “Distracted driving is unsafe, irresponsible and in a split second, its consequences can be devastating.”
Among topics to be discussed at the conference is legislation that would force states to ban texting while driving as a condition for receiving federal highway money.
“We think that’s overkill,” Clayton Boyce, spokesman for the American Trucking Associations, told the New York Times on Sunday. Banning the use of such devices “won’t improve safety,” he said.
Secretary LaHood on Wednesday announced new research findings by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that show nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in crashes involving a distracted or inattentive driver, and more than half a million were injured.
Use of hand-held devices while driving is increasing, according to federal researchers. Drivers are using cell phones, iPods, video games, Blackberrys and GPS systems. The growing habit crosses all modes of transportation, including roads, rail systems and waterways, said DOT.
To further study how cell phone distraction affects commercial truck and motor coach drivers, Secretary LaHood also announced a new study the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is undertaking from October through June 2010. The study is intended to help FMCSA better understand the prevalence of cell phone distraction in conjunction with crashes and near-crashes.
At the two-day summit in Washington, safety experts, researchers, industry representatives, elected officials and members of the public have been invited to share their expertise, experiences and ideas for reducing distracted driving behavior and addressing the safety risk.
At the summit’s conclusion, Secretary LaHood will announce concrete steps the Department is taking to combat the problem.
Contact Thomas L. Gallagher at firstname.lastname@example.org.