SRSLY: Department of Transportation Holds Summit On Texting

August 5, 2009

Now you've gone and done it. We told you that texting was dangerous -- in fact, Bengt Halvorson recently reported that drivers who text-message behind the wheel are 23% more likely to be involved in a "crash or near-crash event". We explained that texting forces your eyes off the road far longer than simply adusting your stereo or even making a call. In fact, at highway speed, looking down to send a 140-character message is like "covering the length of a football field at 55 mph without looking at the road".

But that hasn't deterred you. Apparently, you're still texting, so now the federal government is getting involved: according to a press release from the Department of Transportation (pasted below), Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will convene a "Distracted Driving Summit" to discuss the problem with various figureheads in government, law enforcement, and presumably telecommunications and technology.

We're of two minds about that. On the one hand, text-messaging while driving is a very serious problem that results in countless accidents and numerous fatalities every year. Even with anti-text laws on the books in many states, drivers are still messaging like there's no tomorrow, so clearly, the DOT needs to step up its game.

On the other hand, we're a little concerned by this statement from Secretary LaHood: "If it were up to me, I would ban drivers from texting, but unfortunately, laws aren't always enough." That sounds a bit ominous to us -- and we're not half the bunch of freako separatist libertarians we used to be. What Mr. LaHood means by "laws aren't always enough" is clearly up for debate, but signal blockers and other gadgetry from automakers, cell carriers, and phone manufacturers themselves, would seem to be likely possibilities.

We'll keep you posted about all this as details become available. In the meantime, we're eagerly awaiting the day that text-messaging becomes obsolete and we can communicate telepathically like we've been promised.

[NYTimes, DOT.gov]

DOT 114-09
Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Contact: Sasha Johnson
Tel: 202-366-5037     

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Announces Distracted Driving Summit


Washington, DC – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced a September summit to address the dangers of text-messaging and other distractions behind the wheel. In late September, senior transportation officials, elected officials, safety advocates, law enforcement representatives and academics will convene in Washington, DC to discuss ideas about how to combat distracted driving.

“If it were up to me, I would ban drivers from texting, but unfortunately, laws aren’t always enough,” said Sec. LaHood. “We’ve learned from past safety awareness campaigns that it takes a coordinated strategy combining education and enforcement to get results. That’s why this meeting with experienced officials, experts and law enforcement will be such a crucial first step in our efforts to put an end to distracted driving.”

A number of deadly accidents involving text messaging behind the wheel have called attention to the dangerous problem of distracted driving. Last year, a commuter train crash in California involving an operator who was texting on a cell phone killed 25 people and injured 135 others. In another incident, a Florida truck driver admitted to texting moments before a collision with a school bus that killed a student. In yet another, only a few weeks ago, a 17-year-old high school student from Peoria, Illinois was killed when she drove off the road while texting with friends.

Added Secretary LaHood, “The bottom line is, distracted driving is dangerous driving.  Following next month’s summit, I plan to announce a list of concrete steps we will take to make drivers think twice about taking their eyes off the road for any reason.”

For information and updates on next month’s summit on distracted driving, visit: http://www.distraction.gov/.

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