DOT to hold summit on distracted driving

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U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced that the Department of Transportation will host a summit in late September to address the dangers of text-messaging and other distractions behind the wheel. Senior transportation officials, elected officials, safety advocates, law enforcement representatives and academics will convene in Washington, D.C., to discuss ideas about how to combat distracted driving. A specific date for the summit hasn’t been announced.

“If it were up to me, I would ban drivers from texting, but unfortunately, laws aren’t always enough,” said 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.”

DOT cited several fatal accidents involving text messaging, including 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, DOT said. And 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.

LaHood said that he would announce a series of steps to address the problem following the summit . For information and updates on the summit, click here.

The American Trucking Associations commended DOT and LaHood for holding the summit. “Improving driver performance by eliminating distractions, including those caused by text messaging, will greatly improve the safety of all motorists,” said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves. Last October, ATA adopted a safety agenda that includes a policy of minimizing or eliminating driver distraction caused by using electronic devices while operating any type of motor vehicle.

Several U.S. senators introduced legislation (S. 1536) July 29 that would withhold 25 percent of federal highway funds from states that don’t ban texting while operating a motor vehicle within two years of the law’s enactment.