U.S. unveils blueprint to tackle driver distraction
LaHood pushes voluntary efforts over new rules
LaHood: “I don't have a bill to hand to Congress."
WASHINGTON -- Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said today the agency isn't looking at new regulations to address distracted driving, but rather is calling on automakers to step up voluntary efforts to combat risks with new technologies and education.
LaHood, who's made distracted driving a top automotive safety priority of the Obama administration, said he's met with the CEOs of numerous automakers and feels confident "they're committed to safety."
He even praised Subaru of America for a TV ad that highlighted the dangers of driver distraction. The commercial featured a father talking to his teenage daughter about the risks of using a cell phone while on the road.
"We're not considering a rule," LaHood said. "We're looking at things that have worked. We think good laws work. We think good enforcement works."
He also urged Congress to enact stricter laws on distracted driving and possibly a nationwide ban on cell phone use, although when pressed he didn't offer specifics, saying only it was his personal preference.
"I don't have a bill to hand to Congress," he added.
LaHood's comments came as his department unveiled a new "blueprint" to end distracted driving and announced $2.4 million in federal funding for California and Delaware to help them step up enforcement.
The funding builds upon the department's previous efforts to reduce driver distraction. Three years ago, LaHood launched a campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving. He's even gone as far to label it an "epidemic" and says that deaths attributed to driver distraction are "100 percent" preventable.
His efforts have prompted 39 states and the District of Columbia to ban texting while driving and brought awareness to a danger that some auto safety experts say is becoming more acute as in-car and portable technologies advance.
In 2010, distracted driving deaths totaled 3,092, but NHTSA believes the total could be higher because drivers are often unwilling to admit to the behavior and many crashes lack witnesses.
The proliferation of communications technology behind the wheel has often left regulators struggling to keep up.
In December, National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman, whose board operates independently, called for a ban on all phone use while driving, even with hands-free devices.
"We have got to dispel the myth of multitasking," Hersman said later in February. "We are still learning what the human brain can handle. What is the price of our desire to be mobile and connected at the same time?"
In February, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed the agency's first-ever set of voluntary guidelines on distracted driving.
The guidelines cover vehicle equipment only -- not handheld phones -- and recommend that automakers disable certain apps, such as Facebook, Twitter and Internet browsers, unless a car is pulled over.
Voice operation of those features isn't addressed but will be later. For now, NHTSA is still studying hands-free technology and is expected to release an analysis later this year.
"The data is not very strong on hands-free," said Ron Medford, the deputy NHTSA director. He said the agency is now focusing on what it knows is a danger and that's texting or talking on handheld devices while driving.
Major automakers, however, have pushed back, arguing that the feds' guidelines are too restrictive and need to give more leeway to certain features, such as images and moving maps.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents 12 automakers, would like NHTSA to better align its guidelines with the alliance's own recommendations developed in 2002-03.
Responding to the Alliance's comments, LaHood said automakers don't dispute that driver distraction is a serious safety issue and have taken initiatives to address it. He also stressed that the guidelines are voluntary, not mandatory.
"We think voluntary is the better way to go now,' LaHood said. "We want them to step up and take responsibility for saving lives."
PRESS RELEASE: U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood Issues 'Blueprint for Ending Distracted Driving,' Announces $2.4 Million for California, Delaware Pilot Projects
Comprehensive strategy to address “distraction epidemic” outlines steps to pass more laws, address technology, and help stakeholders take action
WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today released a “Blueprint for Ending Distracted Driving” that offers a comprehensive strategy to address the growing and dangerous practice of using handheld cell phones behind the wheel. The plan outlines concrete steps stakeholders around the country – from lawmakers and safety organizations to families and younger drivers – can take to reduce the risk posed by distracted driving. While unveiling the plan, Secretary LaHood also announced $2.4 million in federal support for California and Delaware that will expand the Department’s “Phone in One Hand, Ticket in the Other” pilot enforcement campaign to reduce distracted driving.
"Distracted driving is an epidemic. While we’ve made progress in the past three years by raising awareness about this risky behavior, the simple fact is people are continuing to be killed and injured – and we can put an end to it,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Personal responsibility for putting down that cell phone is a good first step – but we need everyone to do their part, whether it’s helping pass strong laws, educating our youngest and most vulnerable drivers, or starting their own campaign to end distracted driving.”
The “Blueprint for Ending Distracted Driving” outlines a plan that builds on the national momentum that Secretary LaHood and USDOT have spearheaded for the last three years. Recognizing the extent and complexity of the problem, the plan:
- Encourages the remaining 11 states without distracted driving laws to enact and enforce this critical legislation.
- Challenges the auto industry to adopt new and future guidelines for technology to reduce the potential for distraction on devices built or brought into vehicles.
- Partners with driver education professionals to incorporate new curriculum materials to educate novice drivers of driver distraction and its consequences. Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show drivers under the age of 25 are two to three times more likely than older drivers to send text messages or emails while driving.
- Provides all stakeholders with actions they can take that go beyond personal responsibility to helping end distracted driving nationwide.
Applying a ‘Proven Formula’ to CA, DE Enforcement Programs
Coinciding with the release of the “Blueprint for Ending Distracted Driving,” Secretary LaHood announced that California and Delaware have been selected to receive federal support for pilot projects that will test the effect of increased law enforcement and high-profile public education campaigns on distracted driving.
“We know from the success of national efforts like ‘Click It or Ticket’ that combining good laws with effective enforcement and a strong public education campaign can – and does – change unsafe driving behavior,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. “Now, along with two great state partners, we’re using this proven formula to help tackle distracted driving.”
DOT is providing California and Delaware with $2.4 million of federal support for pilot programs that will examine whether increased police enforcement coupled with paid media and news media coverage can significantly reduce distracted driving over a widespread area. The California program will take place in the Sacramento valley region comprising eight counties and 3.8 million residents, while the Delaware program will be conducted statewide. Both projects are expected to be under way in fall 2012.
The multi-market efforts in these states mirror the approach used in smaller-scale demonstration projects completed in 2011 in Hartford, CT, and Syracuse, NY. The 2011 pilot projects found dramatic declines in distracted driving in the two communities tested – with texting dropping 72 percent in Hartford and 32 percent in Syracuse.
In 2010, at least 3,092 people were killed in distraction-affected crashes – accounting for approximately one in every ten fatalities on the nation’s roadways. Meanwhile, among the findings from NHTSA’s first nationally-representative telephone survey on driver distraction released earlier this year, more than three-quarters of drivers reported that they are willing to answer calls on all, most, or some trips. Survey respondents acknowledged few driving situations when they would not use the phone or text, and yet reported feeling unsafe when riding in vehicles in which the driver is texting and supported bans on texting and cell phone use. Almost all respondents (about 90% overall) reported that they considered a driver who was sending or reading text messages or e-mails as very unsafe.
Nationwide, 39 states, the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands and Guam ban texting behind the wheel. Ten states, the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands and Guam prohibit all hand-held cell phone use while driving.