Today U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced a “Blueprint for Ending Distracted Driving.” His new initiative pressures 11 states that currently do not have distracted driving laws to adopt them in an effort to make the roads safer for drivers and pedestrians. LaHood encourages Congress to adopt a national ban on cell phones, although he did not specify whether the ban would be for both handheld and hands-free devices.
The secretary is also in favor of having automakers voluntarily adhering to government guidelines to “ensure dashboard technologies increasingly being added to cars won’t distract drivers.” He wants driver education programs to work with students and younger drivers, a demographic especially prone to driving while distracted, by incorporating new curriculum materials that identify various factors that can lead to distracted driving as well as outline the consequences of driving while distracted.
Right now the Transportation Department is experimenting with $2.4 million pilot programs in Delaware and California that utilize a stronger police presence and public awareness campaigns to combat distracted driving. Similar programs were rolled out in Hartford, Connecticut, and Syracuse, New York, and led to a 72% and 32% drop in texting while driving.
LaHood was appointed transportation secretary in 2009, and since then he has focused on combating distracted driving. During his three years in office, the number of states with anti-texting laws while driving has increased from 18 to 39. 10 states now ban handheld cell phone use while driving in addition to texting. Still, LaHood insists we can do better. According to him, “One of every ten highway fatalities is caused by distracted driving. At this very moment, 660,000 drivers are talking on the phone while behind the wheel on our nation’s roadways.”
Curiously, LaHood hasn’t specifically voiced support for a ban on hands-free devices. He said that the Department of Transportation wants to first conduct a study of “real-world cellphone use by drivers” before having an opinion either way. Conversely, the National Transportation Safety Board encourages banning cellphone use, whether it’s hands-on or hands-free, while driving. The safety board cites studies saying that hands-free conversations are equally distracting to drivers as chats via a handheld cellphone. Apparently regardless of the device used, it’s difficult for drivers to responsibly divide their attention between the conversation they’re having and focusing on what’s going on in front of and around them. We’ll have to wait and see what the Department of Transportation says about hands-free devices, but for now the department is definitely focusing on addressing the all-encompassing issue of distracted driving and making it a national priority.
photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/blackeycove/3647897679/