- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 4, 2009

UPDATED:

The Obama administration will hold a summit about the potential dangers of texting while driving, Transportation Department Secretary Ray LaHood said Tuesday.

“If it were up to me, I would ban drivers from texting, but unfortunately, laws aren’t always enough,” he said during a news conference at the agency’s Washington headquarters. “It takes a coordinated strategy combining education and enforcement to get results. That’s why this meeting … will be such a crucial first step.”

The summit is scheduled for next month and will include transportation officials, safety advocates, law-enforcement officers and members of Congress, an agency spokeswoman said.

There is a growing concern across the United States about drivers being distracted while using cell phones, BlackBerrys and other handle-held devices to call or send text messages.

Safety advocates point to a train crash last year in California in which 135 people were injured and 25 others were killed, including the operator who was texting.

They also cite the Florida truck driver who admitted to texting moments before a crash with a school bus that killed a student.

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute released a study last week that found the risk of heavy-truck drivers crashing is roughly 23 times higher when they are sending text messages. The study also found that the risk was roughly three times higher for car drivers dialing a cell phone and that text messaging on a cell phone posed the highest risk of all cell-phone-related tasks.

Still, the report follows the release of a Transportation Department study in July that found the number of traffic fatalities reported in 2008 fell to the lowest level since 1961 and that fatalities in the first three months of 2009 continue to decrease.

“The bottom line is distracted driving is dangerous driving,” Mr. LaHood said.

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