Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

America's sharp, new turn against distracted driving

December 13, 2011 - 03:17 PM
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(Photo: flickr/oregondot)

It's no surprise to learn that the U.S. Department of Transportation is taking another move against distracted driving. Under Secretary Ray LaHood, the department has transformed the dangers of distracted driving into what one might argue is their central clarion cause. The feds want to demonize the use of cell phones in our cars, whether for texting or talking purposes. The government even features faces of people who have suffered or died due to distracted driving and run the website Distraction.gov.

"Since 2009, we have held two national distracted driving summits, banned texting and cell phone use for commercial drivers, encouraged states to adopt tough laws, and launched several campaigns to raise public awareness about the issue," Distraction.gov proclaims.

All you have to do is look at LaHood's desk to know he's serious.

And now it looks like the feds have upped the stakes. Today the National Transportation Safety Board has said it will vote that all states ban mobile devices for talking or texting, even if the devices are hands-free. The NTSB cites more than 3,000 lives lost last year due to distracted driving. The organization has messages for many agencies throughout the government, and here's the big one directed to all 50 states and the District of Columbia:

(1) Ban the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices (other than those designed to support the driving task) for all drivers; (2) use the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration model of high visibility enforcement to support these bans; and (3) implement targeted communication campaigns to inform motorists of the new law and enforcement, and to warn them of the dangers associated with the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices while driving. (H-11-XX)

We already have several restrictions on cell-phone use in Virginia, D.C., and Maryland, and if the federal government continues with these new proposed recommendations, the tide of the country may turn rather quickly. Ray LaHood has mused that he wouldn't return for a second Obama term, and this is, more and more undeniably, becoming the transportation issue that has defined and will embody his time at the helm of the Department of Transportation.

Well, that and perhaps talking cars. We'll see on that one come 2013.

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