Texting Trouble: Transportation Summit to Address Distracted Driving

"If I could wave a magic wand, I would eliminate it, but I don't have that magic wand, it would take a law," LaHood told ABCNews. "We actually have four U.S. senators speaking at our conference, our summit, in the next day-and-a-half, and that really begins the process for getting Congress on board to pass laws."

The question, then, is will the summit put pressure on states to step up enforcement of existing laws or perhaps implement tougher new laws? Auto safety experts say the science is clear: Talking on the phone, texting, anything that takes your attention from the road, is dangerous.

In many areas of highway safety, the best countermeasure is the law. The issue with cell phones and texting is having laws that carry a consequence for the driver and are enforceable. Enforcing a ban on hands-free devices is tricky, at best.

"Three years ago, NTSB recommended that DOT ban cell phone use in drivers. ... Nothing has been done; it's now time for DOT to take immediate action," said Jacqueline Gillan, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety during a news conference last week. "We shouldn't have to wait for more deaths and injuries on our roads."

A July study from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that truck drivers who text are 23 times more likely to crash than those who don't. Further evidence of distraction is highlighted in a Department of Transportation study that suggests one in four reported crashes show distraction was a factor in the accident.

"It's not possible to drive safely while you're texting," LaHood said. "It just simply is not because your attention is drawn away from driving a vehicle."

Recent studies have added fuel to the cause of safety advocates, last week spurring Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety to roll out a petition requesting the Department of Transportation regulate the use of electronic devices by commercial motor vehicle operators in the United States.

Safety Advocates Call for Action

Elissa Schee, the mother of 13-year-old Frances "Margay" Schee, who died in a Florida car accident last year, spoke in favor of the petition to keep commercial drivers off cell phones while on the road.

"I speak from my heart when I say that just one loss is dramatically life-changing and not worth wasting one moment of debate about whether or not to adopt a policy that will protect our children and keep our families whole," Schee said through tears, explaining how her daughter was killed when a tractor-trailer driver, who was using a cell phone, hit the back of her daughter's school bus, which then caught fire, trapping Margay inside.

"What happened to Margay was not an isolated incident," she said. "These tragedies are increasingly occurring on our nation's roadways and they are preventable."

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers also supports immediate action, last week calling for a ban on phone use while behind the wheel.

"Clearly, using a hand-held device to text or call while driving is a safety risk," alliance president and CEO Dave McCurdy said. "That makes it incompatible with maintaining the focus necessary to safely drive a vehicle, and the alliance supports a ban on hand-held texting and calling while driving to accelerate the transition to more advanced, safer ways to manage many common potential distractions."

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