The Obama administration said Thursday it will seek to ban text messaging by interstate bus drivers and truckers and push states to pass laws against driving cars while distracted.
Transportation Secretary Ray La-Hood said the administration also would move to put restrictions on cell phone use by rail operators, truck drivers and interstate bus drivers.
“Driving while distracted should just feel wrong â€”just as driving without a seat belt or driving while intoxicated,” LaHood said at the end of a two-day conference on the problem. “We're not going to break everyone of their bad habits – but we are going do raise
awareness and sharpen the consequences.”
As a first step, LaHood said, President Barack Obama signed an execufive order late Wednesday banning all federal workers from texting while driving on government business, driving government vehicles or using government equipment.
The administration also will push to disqualify school bus drivers who are convicted of texting while driving from keeping their commercial driver's licenses.
Researchers, safety groups, auto makers and lawmakers gathered to discuss the issue of distracted driving, hearing reports from the government that underscored the potential safety threat as more motorists stay connected with cell phones and mobile devices.
The Transportation Department reported that 5,870 people were killed and 515,000 were injured last year in crashes connected to driver distraction, often involving mobile devices or cell phones.
Driver distraction was involved in 16 percent of all fatal crashes in 2008 and was more prevalent among young drivers.
Senate Democrats said support was building in Congress to move against text messaging by drivers. The legislation, pushed by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., would require states to ban texting or e-mailing while operating a moving vehicle or lose 25 percent of their annual federal highway funding.
LaHood declined to endorse Schumer's bill, saying only that the administration would work with Congress. Many states have questioned the use of so-called “sanctions” against states that do not pass laws sought by Congress, especially during tough economic times.
Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have passed laws making texting while driving illegal, and seven states and the District have banned driving while talking on a handheld cell phone, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Industry officials said a broad public awareness campaign was needed to overcome people's penchant to stay connected with the office and loved ones at all times.