Distracted Drivers Beware: A New Group Aims to Stop You

While distracted driving has always been a safety issue, with the advent of new mobile communication devices and technologies, it has become what the new group calls a "growing epidemic." The group considers cell phone texting the most alarming of newer distractions, because it involves all three types of distraction.

So far, a ban against texting while driving has been enacted in 19 states plus Washington, D.C. and Guam, according to the Department of Transportation Web site distraction.gov. The states are: Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia and Washington.

Six states plus Washington, D.C. and the Virgin Islands have banned the use of all hand-held devices for any reason while driving including, California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Washington.

Other forms of distracted driving include driving while using a cell phone, eating and drinking, talking to passengers, grooming, changing the radio station, CD or Mp3 player, watching a video or reading, or using a PDA or navigation system or other portable electronic devices.

According to the NHTSA, the proportion of drivers reportedly distracted at the time of the fatal crashes increased from 8 percent in 2004 to 11 percent in 2008.

In 2008, 5,870 people were killed in police-reported car crashes, where at least one form of driver distraction was reported, accounting for 16 percent of all fatalities in crashes that year. And an estimated 515,000 people were injured in crashes, an estimated 21 percent of all injury crashes where driver distraction was reported.

The group says these numbers could be understated, since a driver distraction's role in a crash can be difficult to determine using only police-reported data.

Young people under 20 had the highest proportion of distracted drivers involved in fatal crashes, accounting for 16 percent. The next largest group of distracted drivers was the 20- to 29-year-old age group, with 12 percent.

LaHood said he hoped that distracted driving would become a hot button issue for Congress this year, and that FocusDriven would do for distracted driving what groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving have done for drunk driving.

He admonished people who continue to drive while distracted.

"I don't care what the distraction is. If you're eating a hamburger, pulling through a fast food restaurant, combing your hair, shaving, putting eye makeup on, trying to get a disruptive child in the back seat to behave -- those are all distractions," LaHood said.

"We're against all that. My point of view is we're going to set the highest bar possible. That's where we are at right now. No distractions."

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