Distracted driving an epidemic, summit told

DOT logo“Distracted driving is a menace to society,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Wednesday as he opened the federal summit on text messaging, cell phoning and other forms of dangerous behaviors behind the wheel.

The government was ready with the statistical evidence: 5,870 people were killed and 515,000 were injured in 2008 in which distracted driving was a factor. Sixteen percent of fatal crashes had the link, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found.

“Distracted driving is an epidemic and it seems to be getting worse every year,” LaHood told his audience of experts on traffic safety.

The summit was inspired by the growing national alarm over the problems of inattentive driving, primarily the potentially deadly practice of text messaging while driving, a practice seen as common among young adults.

One of the opening day’s hot topics was whether hands-free devices really do make cell phone use by drivers safer. Another discussion looked at the the difficulties faced by law officers trying to determine if drivers are texting.

One expert called text messaging while driving “the perfect storm that brings together visual, manual and cognitive demands.”

On Thursday, LaHood plans to unveil the steps his DOT will take to address the distracted driving crisis.

Still, “You can’t legislate behavior,” LaHood said. “Taking personal responsibility for our actions is the key.”

The public is invited to view the summit online and to submit questions for the panelists. View the page for the distracted driving webcast.

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