April 30, 2010 -- It's a fact. Distracted driving kills, and talk show queen Oprah Winfrey is continuing her mission to prevent distracted driving deaths by urging drivers to make their cars "no phone zones" today.
My plea is to recognize that really it is an addiction. Look, five years ago, 10 years ago we weren't doing this. This isn't what we did," Winfrey said on "GMA" today. "We used to drive in our cars and reach the destination, think about what we had to do once we got to the destination or think about our lives…just driving was enough. And I think driving still is enough."
In a special live episode today, "The Oprah Winfrey Show" will be devoted to raising awareness about the problem, and communities across the nation are expected to participate by holding live viewing events.
In 2008 a 9-year-old girl, Erica, was killed while riding her bike by a motorist on her cell phone. Erica was only 15 pedals away from her house. Winfrey said that was the story that impacted her the most.
"It was something about the 15 pedals. Because we all have been on a bicycle and we know what 15 pedals to the front door means," Winfrey said. "To arrive home and see your daughter lying on the street dead when she was 15 pedals from the front door,[it was] devastating and recognizing that it didn't have to happen."
Winfrey joined forces in the effort with several public and private transportation safety groups, including the U.S. Department of Transportation, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Students Against Destructive Decisions.
"A call or text isn't worth taking a life," Winfrey said in a statement announcing the initiative earlier this month. "We must not allow more mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, sisters and brothers to die before we take action against distracted driving."
She invited motorists to observe national "No Phone Zone Day" today and to make each car "No Phone Zone." She asked motorists to sign an online pledge asking them to drive responsibly and avoid using their cell phones behind the wheel.
More than 213,000 people had signed the pledge as of last night.
Ray LaHood, U.S. transportation secretary, said he was "proud" to participate in Winfrey's initiative.
"We know that if we can get people to put away cell phones and other electronic devices when they are behind the wheel, we can save thousands of lives and prevent hundreds of thousands of injuries every year," LaHood said in a statement.
Every year, about 6,000 people are killed and 500,000 injured because of distracted driving.
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.
Studies show 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.
States Have Enacted Distracted Driving Laws
Even though six states have banned talking on a cell phone while driving, and 21 have banned texting, people can't seem to resist taking calls and returning e-mails and texts when they're driving.
Earlier this month, the federal government launched a pilot program combining education and enforcement.
Police officers in designated communities in New York and Connecticut set up checkpoints, and ticketed any drivers who were 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.
Drivers Know the Risks, So Why Do They Do It?
Officer Kevin Hesta of the Hartford, Conn., police department questioned the practice. Connecticut is one of the states where texting and driving is banned, and unless drivers use a hands-free device, using a cell phone behind the wheel is against the law.
"It's just dangerous," Hesta said earlier this month. "I've seen people literally hands over the steering wheel, texting like this, driving with wrists."
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.
Click HERE to find out more and the cell phone and texting laws in your state.
April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month
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.
ABC News' Sarah Herndon contributed to this report.