WASHINGTON (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who has been criticized by highway safety advocates for his focus on distracted driving, said he'll keep the issue at the top of his safety agenda.
“We will not be deterred by false choices about addressing distracted driving on the one hand and alternative critical safety issues on the other,” LaHood said today in Washington, responding to criticism from former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration head Jeffrey Runge.
Runge told USA Today last week that the Transportation Department should focus on bigger causes of traffic deaths and injuries. According to the agency, about 5,500 people died and 500,000 people were injured in 2009 because of distracted driving. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety President Adrian Lund has also criticized LaHood's work, saying texting bans haven't reduced distracted driving-related crashes.
LaHood has said he believes motorists are distracted by any use of mobile phones while driving, including hands-free calls made using vehicle information and entertainment systems such as Ford Motor Co.'s Sync and General Motors Co.'s OnStar.
LaHood said he will meet with the chairmen of Ford and Chrysler Group LLC in Detroit next week about curbing distracted driving. He said he has already spoken with executives of General Motors, Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co., Honda Motor Co. and Bayerische Motoren Werke AG about the topic.
LaHood said corporate bans on mobile phone use while driving help set an example.
Safeway Inc., a U.S. grocery-store chain, last year banned drivers of its 797 tractor-trailer trucks and 403 home-delivery trucks from talking or texting, including hands-free devices, while operating its trucks, said Shannon Campagna, the company's vice president of federal government relations.