Texting Trouble: Transportation Summit to Address Distracted Driving

At the Department of Transportation's Distracted Driving Summit, Secretary Ray LaHood kicked off the two-day conference to battle what he described as a menace to society: the problem of texting while driving, one LaHood deems an endemic that "seems to be getting worse every year."

Numbers released this morning by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reveal that drivers younger than 24 are the worst offenders, but that it's a growing trend among all ages. In 2008, drivers who weren't paying attention took nearly 6,000 lives and caused half a million injuries. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia ban texting while driving but, ultimately, LaHood said, he would like to eliminate texting while driving nationwide.

VIDEO: How Do You Stop Texting and Driving?

"I want to remind everyone that we cannot rely on legal action alone because, in reality, you can't legislate behavior," LaHood said in his opening remarks. "Taking personal responsibility for our actions is the key to all this."

Reggie Shaw knows the consequences of such a distraction firsthand. In 2006, the then-19-year-old driver caused a car crash in Utah because he was using his phone while behind the wheel.

"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," Shaw says in a Utah public service announcement.

The accident killed two men, and landed Shaw in prison for a month.

"The worst offenders are the youngest, least experienced drivers," LaHood said today, detailing that the offenses of distracted driving are committed by public and private citizens alike, on and off the job.

"We need a combination of strong laws, tough enforcement and ongoing public education to make a difference," LaHood said.

More than 300 people attended the summit and officials estimate more than 10,000 are watching at home.

Throughout the two-day summit, the Department of Transportation will bring together safety experts, law enforcement and congressional representatives, as well as a panel of teens and young adults in hopes of changing irresponsible behavior.

This morning's panel, composed of representatives from the National Transportation Safety Board, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the general manager of the Utah Transit Authority, took a close look at how to define and measure driver distraction, given that it can be difficult to quantify. Examining crash data, performing in-depth crash investigations, analyzing self-report surveys and reviewing observation data are among the tools that can be used.

A Growing Trend Among All Ages

The two-day conference will examine the results of experimental research, collision studies and reporting across the industry to determine the effect of technology on transportation and how to remedy the problem of distracted driving.

"We need to raise public awareness that texting is a bad thing to do while you're driving, whether you're driving a school bus, a transit bus, a train or your own car," the transportation secretary said in an interview earlier this week with ABC News.

LaHood said if it were his decision, he would ensure that every electronic message sent while driving would be a crime.

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