LaHood: A Text-and-Drive “Epidemic”

Fed campaign compared one against drinking and driving

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood plans recommendations for Congress, safety groups, educators and regulators after a “Distracted Driving Summit” in Washington on Wednesday and Thursday that’s taking aim at texting-while-driving.

The administration plans to announce a number of concrete actions at the end of the summit. One of those could include a rule that would affect commercial truck drivers.

LaHood said his goal is to “have a very loud public discussion over the next day and a half about the epidemic in our country of people texting while driving, and the fatalities and the injuries that are caused from that.”

The secretary said he plans “to have strong recommendations coming forth from the summit and working with Congress on really trying to solve this problem.”

“I don’t think that many people take it seriously,” LaHood said in a telephone interview. “I drive all over Washington and I see people on cellphones. I see people texting. I see people doing all kinds of things.”
The administration does not support any particular legislation, and is not going to immediately push for its own bill, an aide said.

LaHood said he sees his “public information and public education” campaign as “not dissimilar to what we have done in this country to solve the driving while drinking problem with .08 now as the standard, and the use of seatbelts.”

“At one point, law enforcement people and others didn’t take it seriously and so average, ordinary citizens stepped up and said something has to be done,” he said.

“It took a long time to do that. But until you have a very serious public conversation about these matters and everybody realizes it’s a serious issue, it’s identified as an epidemic, then we’ll being to deal with it.”
LaHood said that when he’s driving, “I put my BlackBerry in my glove compartment. I think we’re all tempted, but we have to create means for not doing these things. And what I do is put it in a little middle glove compartment in my old Buick.”

LaHood said he wants to “get every driver’s training program to really make this a part of their teaching — that you can’t use your BlackBerry, you can’t use your cellphone, keep both hands on the wheel and straight ahead.”

“That is a recommendation that could come out: that every driver’s training program has to teach teenagers that they can’t be texting on a BlackBerry or a cellphone,” he said.

The summit will feature an appearance by some teenagers who’ve been involved in accidents where fatalities occurred, and some where serious injuries occurred

“We’re going to work with Congress on trying to solve this problem the way that Congress dealt with stakeholder groups in the past, on .08 and on seat belts,” LaHood said. “I don’t know what the final outcome of that will be except that I think there will be a bill that we will with Congress to get passed to really address this distracted-driving situation. We’re going to solve it. We’re going to do it with Congress. Or we’re going to do it with stakeholders … safety groups, groups similar to MADD.”

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