DOT’s Distracted Driving Summit under way

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Leading the call for a cultural shift in how Americans view safe driving, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Wednesday, Sept. 30, challenged more than 250 safety experts, industry representatives, elected officials and members of the public to help put an end to distracted driving.

LaHood’s call to action kicked off the two-day Distracted Driving Summit in Washington, D.C., intended to highlight the under-recognized dangers of distracted behavior behind the wheel.

“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,” LaHood says. “Distracted driving is unsafe and irresponsible, and in a split second, its consequences can be devastating.”

LaHood 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. On any given day in 2008, more than 800,000 vehicles were driven by someone using a handheld cell phone.

Across the board, federal researchers who have directly observed drivers of all ages found that more and more people are using a variety of handheld devices while driving – not just cell phones, but also iPods, video games, Blackberrys and GPS systems. In particular, cell phone use for talking and texting now is more prevalent on our nation’s roads, rail systems and waterways, carrying a dangerous potential for accidents.

Cell phones and texting are now the primary means of communication for many people, especially young adults. NHTSA’s research shows that the worst offenders are the youngest drivers: men and women under 20 years of age.

“We now know that the worst offenders are the youngest, least experienced drivers,” LaHood says. “Unfortunately, though, the problem doesn’t end there. Distracted driving occurs across all age groups and all modes of transportation, from cars to buses and trucks to trains. We must work together to find solutions that will prevent crashes caused by driver distraction.”

To further study how cell phone distraction affects commercial truck and motor coach drivers, LaHood also announced a new study the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is undertaking this month through June 2010. The study will help FMCSA better understand the prevalence of cell phone distraction in conjunction with crashes and near-crashes.

The two-day summit has brought together safety experts, researchers, industry representatives, elected officials and members of the public to share their expertise, experiences and ideas for reducing distracted driving behavior and addressing the safety risk posed by the growing problem across all modes of transportation.

Authoritative speakers from across the nation have been invited to lead interactive sessions on a number of key topics, including the extent and impact of distracted driving, current research, regulations and best practices. LaHood says he will announce concrete steps DOT is taking to combat this problem at the summit’s conclusion.