U.N., international officials launch global effort to end distracted driving

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United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and senior representatives from the United States and Russia on Wednesday, May 19, appeared at U.N. headquarters in New York to launch a global effort to address distracted driving. Ban was joined for the announcement by U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin and Jennifer Smith, president of FocusDriven, a U.S. victims’ advocacy organization.

“Texting while driving isn’t a harmless little habit, it’s a killer,” Rice says. “It affects every nation on Earth. The suffering it causes is terribly direct and immediate – lives lost for no reason, futures shattered in an instant. But its toll is truly global. So this is a problem that needs global attention and action.”

Ki-moon issued a directive to more than 40,000 U.N. staff barring employees from texting behind the wheel while driving U.N.-owned vehicles. The U.S. State Department already has asked its U.S. embassies around the world to raise awareness about distracted driving, as well as to collect data about distracted driving from other governments.

“Distracted driving isn’t just a deadly epidemic in the U.S. – it’s a threat around the world,” LaHood says. “We believe our nations can do more to stop distracted driving if we work together. The Obama administration stands ready to work with other countries so that we can put an end to dangerous driving behaviors and make the world’s roads safer for everyone.”

Many other governments are also moving to put an end to distracted driving. To date, 32 countries – including Russia, Brazil, France, Japan, Jordan, Spain, Taiwan and the United Kingdom – have passed laws that restrict drivers’ use of handheld devices. Portugal has outlawed all phone use – handheld or hands-free – in the driver’s seat.

“The call for action we are making today is very timely and important,” Churkin says. “Distracted driving is one of the major risk factors for road traffic crashes. It was highlighted during the First Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety held in Moscow last November and is reflected in the UNGA resolution 64/255 ‘improving global road safety,’ which was presented by Russia. Russia is ready to engage with the United States and other interested countries in defining the ways to mainstream it into global road safety cooperation agenda.”