Texting Behind the Wheel: Action Taken in Distracted Driving Debate

At the conclusion of the Department of Transportation's Distracted Driving Summit, Treasury Secretary Ray LaHood announced Thursday that the White House signed an executive order to ban federal employees from text messaging while behind the wheel while on government business, in federal vehicles or when using government equipment.

As first reported by ABC News, the White House played off the summit, signing the order Wednesday evening in what the secretary called a "big deal."

"This order sends a very clear signal to the American public that distracted driving is dangerous and unacceptable," LaHood told the 300 people gathered at the event and the thousands watching via webcast at home." It shows that the federal government is leading by example. This is a very big deal."

The administration made public the executive order on Thursday, which stated that given the government's nearly 3 million civilian employees, it is its duty to "demonstrate leadership in reducing the dangers of text messaging while driving."

"A Federal Government-wide prohibition on the use of text messaging while driving on official business or while using Government-supplied equipment will help save lives, reduce injuries, and set an example for State and local governments, private employers, and individual drivers," read the release from the White House.

The second and final day of the conference focused on the role of legislative and regulatory approaches in mitigating distracted driving, as well as how to effectively alert the public of the issue's significance. Reggie Shaw, who killed two people while tapping out a text message from behind the wheel of his moving car, shared his story with the audience today and stated his strong believe that there should be a law against texting and driving.

"Getting teens to stop doing this, I think it's important that there's laws in place so they understand that this is a serious matter," Shaw said, telling the audience that he killed two men in 2006 when he was 19, and was in prison for a month as a result.

"I thought it was safe. I thought it was something I could do, that I could drive down the road and send a text and be safe," said Shaw appearing in a Utah public service announcement.

Action on the Legislative Level

Members of Congress took the stage on Thursday to help bring attention to the controversial issue and reinforce that driving is a privilege and should be treated with responsibility.

"I'm completely amazed that anyone believes that it is a reasonable idea to take your eyes off of the road, look down and type a message while driving in traffic," said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., on Thursday. "The time has come to act before it is too late, before more lives are lost and we look back with regret that we did nothing in the face of imminent danger."

Many States Move to Enact Laws

While motor vehicle laws are under state jurisdiction, Menendez, along with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., are attempting to address the problem of cell phone use behind the wheel. The senators are sponsoring the Alert Drivers Act which was first unveiled this summer. The bill would require states to ban anyone from texting or e-mailing while operating a moving vehicle. The legislation on the table would withhold 25 percent of federal highway funding from states that fail to comply with the policy.

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