For Ray LaHood, a standing ovation

DOT chief Ray LaHood unveils distracted driving planEarly critics were amazed to find DOT chief Ray LaHood campaigning, fiercely, against drivers’ use of distracting electronic devices such as cell phones.

He took it as a compliment.

“Am I on a rampage?” LaHood said in the early years of his term. “Yes, I am, and why shouldn’t I be?”

Politicians and bureaucrats don’t talk that way, but LaHood did. He cited a rising national death toll as drivers increasingly talked & texted their way down our streets and highways.

Who can say how many lives (many of them young) were saved as LaHood used the DOT’s bully pulpit in his campaign against electric distracted driving. No doubt the figure would be north of a thousand.

Now comes news that LaHood is stepping down. The DOT chief was the lone Republican in the president’s cabinet, a distinction explained in part by he and President Obama being pals.

Why leave? Who knows, but the move had been anticipated. Nothing odd about cabinet officials leaving at the end of a presidential term.

“I’m one of these people who believe that you should go out while they’re applauding,” LaHood, 67, told the AP after confirming his exit.

Let’s make it a standing ovation.


  1. Al, I share your optimism about Hersman.

    As for LaHood, it would have been easy for him to ignore the issue since for the most part regulation rests at the state level. Most DOT chiefs would have played it safe.

    When LaHood took up the cause, cynics said he only cared so he could run for president. Nope. During his term, no one else stuck his neck out to this extent at the state or federal level. He churned up massive media coverage, and mobilized the experts and activists. He emboldened state reps.

    If LaHood had talked about complete cell phone bans a few years back, no one would have listened. Even a casual review of the state legislative histories shows complete cell bans don’t have a chance now, except maybe at the local level.

    Where I live, in L.A., the handheld cell phone ban has made driving so much safer and less aggravating. Night and day. Not because everyone is using hands free instead. Or because that’s safer. Because most people simply don’t make the calls for fear of tickets or never got around to getting the hands-free things.

    I suspect if you had a beer or two with LaHood he would agree that all cell phones should be banned for drivers, and in that case he did hang Hersman out to dry. He also futzed about with the automakers as they did end runs and installed pinball machines for drivers’ entertainment.

    But on the whole the guy did a terrific job. He could have done nothing but he did a lot.

    • Al Cinamon says:

      USA Today is out with a story today (6/12) which corroborates what I’ve been saying for years. Hands-free is not risk-free! So to ban holding the phone is really accomplishing nothing. It, in effect, encourages distracted driving by making drivers think it is safe to talk on the phone while driving. To say that a law to ban all cell phone talk would not have a chance of passing proves that the whole issue is political and has nothing to do with safety.

  2. Apparently Hi-fi guy has been fooled like so many others. LaHood has stood with the politicians who really don’t care about improving safety on our roads. Debra Hersman is a gal who deserves a standing ovation. She tells it like it is. She said there should be a ban on hands-free as well as hand-held phones. She understands the problem and called out the hypocrites in State governments. I just hope she becomes LaHood’s successor.

  3. Jack Treffner says:

    Many thanks to Ray LaHood for his efforts. He was a rare official who put it on the line and is responsible for leading the US effort to make distracted driving a dirty dangerous word. Hope we get another like him if this modern pandemic is to be outlawed and eradicated.

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