April 28, 2012
LaHood Calls for Federal Ban on Cell Phone Use While Driving
Speaking at a distracted-driving conference in San Antonio, Texas on Thursday, the US Transportation Secretary called for a federal law that would prohibit talking or texting on a cell phone while behind the wheel of any vehicle, anywhere in the country.
According to Reuters reporter Jim Forsyth, while speaking at the event which was sponsored by insurance company USAA, the Texas Department of Transportation and Shriners Hospitals for Children, Ray LaHood said that a nation-wide ban on cell phone use amongst drivers is the only way to effectively deal with what he dubbed a "national epidemic."
He added that it was vital that law enforcement personnel be given the power "the opportunity to write tickets when people are foolishly thinking they can drive safely or use a cell phone and text and drive."
While LaHood has offered his support to the 38 states that have restricted or prohibited calling or texting while driving, CNET's Marguerite Reardon reported Friday that this marks the first time that the Transportation Secretary has publicly called for a federal law prohibiting the practice.
Forsyth said that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that an estimated 3,000 fatal traffic accidents occurred last year across the US because of distracted driving, and that using a cell phone while operating a motor vehicle causes the same kind of delays in reaction time as having blood alcohol concentration levels of .08.
However, Reardon cites Department of Transportation statistics which said that just 9% of all highway fatalities in 2010 were caused by distracted driving. In comparison, 31% of those deaths had been liked to alcohol.
National Motorists Association President Gary Biller downplayed the need for special rules governing cell phone use by drivers, telling Reuters, "It shouldn't matter if the driver is distracted by a conversation with another vehicle passenger, tuning the radio, eating a snack, or talking on a cell phone. Existing laws cover all those distractions and more."
"LaHood said more needs to be done," said Reardon. "He compared the issue to how drunk driving was treated 20 or 30 years ago. He said more awareness and stronger laws are needed to criminalize the activity so that people will stop doing it."