Shut Up and Drive: Feds Target Talking, Texting Behind the Wheel

Pilot program aims to curb talking or texting from behind the wheel.

April 14, 2010, 8:26 PM

April 15, 2010— -- Despite indisputable evidence that it's a dangerous practice, cell phone use behind the wheel is a growing problem.

Studies show that that people who talk and drive at the same time are four times more likely to crash. Those who text and drive are 20 times more likely to have an accident.

Every year, about 6,000 people are killed and 500,000 injured because of distracted driving, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has said.

Even though six states have banned talking on a cell phone while driving, and 21 have banned texting, people can't resist taking calls and returning e-mails when behind the wheel.

The new federal pilot program aims to curb that risky behavior. Launched April 8 in Syracuse, N.Y., and April 10 in Hartford, Conn., the program combines education and enforcement -- much in the way that previous national enforcement efforts for drunk driving and seat belt laws have done.

The campaign's slogan is "Phone in One Hand. Ticket in the Other."

Police officers in the designated communities have set up checkpoints, and are ticketing any drivers who are caught violating the law.

"It's time for drivers to act responsibly, put their hands on the wheel and focus on the road," LaHood said in a statement.

Click HERE to find out more and the cell phone and texting laws in your state.

Drivers Know the Risks, So Why Do They Do It?

At a recent checkpoint in Hartford, police officers were kept busy. It's illegal to text and drive in Connecticut, and unless drivers use a hands-free device, using a cell phone behind the wheel is against the law.

"It's just dangerous," said Officer Kevin Hesta of the Hartford Police department. "I've seen people literally hands over the steering wheel, texting like this, driving with wrists."

It's risky and most drivers know it, so why do they do it?

Matt Richtel, whose writing about distracted driving just earned him and others at The New York Times a Pulitzer Prize for national reporting, said the practice is addictive.

"Think of your cell phone as a slot machine. You don't know if something good or bad's coming in and you keep pulling the lever and you do it even when you're behind the wheel," Richtel said.

Experts believe the only real way to change drivers' behavior is to make sure they know they'll be caught and face tough consequences.

The new program is just one of the many awareness efforts launched by governments, private corporations and advocacy groups to combat the problem.

AT&T recently ran a public service campaign focusing on the last text message that was sent or received before someone was injured or killed because of texting and driving.

In one of the television spots, the text "Where u at?" flashed on the screen while a woman said, "This is the text my daughter was reading when she drove into oncoming traffic."

Her daughter, 18-year-old Mariah West, lost control of the car. She died.

Verizon Wireless and Allstate Insurance also have launched campaigns to discourage distracted driving.

April has been designated National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

Studies have found that drivers who use their cell phones for talking or texting have much slower response times than those who do not. They also have slower reaction times than people with blood alcohol levels of 0.08.

ABC News' Sarah Herndon contributed to this report.

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