- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 1, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) — Determined to stop Americans from texting while driving, the Obama administration plans a campaign similar to past government efforts to discourage drunken driving and encourage the use of seat belts.

The administration planned to offer recommendations Thursday to address the growing safety risk of distracted drivers, especially the use of mobile devices to send messages from behind the wheel.

“We can really eliminate texting while driving. That should be our goal,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, declining to provide specifics of the recommendations.

Researchers, safety groups, automakers and lawmakers gathered for a second day to discuss the perils of distracted driving, hearing government data that underscored the safety threat as more motorists stay connected with cell phones and mobile devices.

“It’s like driving with your eyes closed,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat and proponent of a texting ban.

The Transportation Department reported that nearly 6,000 people were killed and a half-million were injured last year in vehicle crashes connected to driver distraction, often by mobile devices and cell phones.

LaHood called distracted driving a “menace to society” and said the administration would offer a series of recommendations Thursday to encourage Congress, state governments and the public to curb the unsafe behavior. He said the government would draw from past efforts to reduce drunken driving and encourage motorists to wear seat belts.

Sens. Chuck Schumer and Amy Klobuchar, both Democrats, said support was building in Congress to ban text messaging by drivers. Their legislation would require states to ban texting or e-mailing while operating a moving vehicle or lose 25 percent of their annual federal highway funding.

“No text message is so urgent that it’s worth dying over,” Klobuchar told participants.

The government reported that 5,870 people were killed and 515,000 were injured last year in crashes where at least one form of driver distraction was reported. Driver distraction was involved in 16 percent of all fatal crashes in 2008 and was prevalent among young drivers.

Eighteen states and the federal enclave of Washington have passed laws making texting while driving illegal and seven states and the District have banned driving while talking on a handheld cell phone, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Many safety groups have urged a nationwide ban on using handheld mobile devices while behind the wheel.

On the Net:

Distracted Driving Summit: https://tinyurl.com/ncozgx

State laws on cell phones, driving: https://tinyurl.com/5k5bwy

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