At a meeting on auto safety organized by the U.S. Transportation Department, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood this morning reported on the dangers of distracted driving. His figures were grim: last year, almost 6,000 traffic fatalities and 515,000 injuries were linked to driver distraction.
The goal of the two-day "distracted driving summit" is for the assembled experts to draw up a list of recommendations that can be presented to Congress. Ultimately, LaHood hopes to see those recommendations implemented in legislation to restrict drivers' ability to talk on cell phones or text-message behind the wheel. LaHood has compared the meeting to summits previously held on blood-alcohol limits and safety belts, which have resulted in both state/federal legislation and public education campaigns to address those problems. Of particular concern to this summit's attendees is the 20-and-under crowd, which has been involved in a disproportionate number of distracted-driving incidents.
Obviously, Secretary LaHood and his associates are not the only folks who understand the dangers of distracted driving. In the U.S., 18 states and the District of Columbia now forbid texting while driving, and seven (plus the District of Columbia) forbid drivers from talking on a handheld cell phone. Legislation has been introduced in the U.S. Senate that would require states to ban texting and emailing while driving; the penalty for states in noncompliance would be the loss of 25% of their federal highway funding.
Many consumer and industry groups have voiced strong support for such legislation. Even the Governors Highway Safety Association, which had expressed some reservations, has even come around. The only real holdout seems to be CTIA-The wireless Association -- which is, not surprisingly, the trade group for the cell phone industry. CTIA seems to support a texting ban, but only reluctantly, and only if it's paired with driver-education initiatives. We wouldn't expect anything less.