U.S. To Ban Feds From Texting While Driving

The Obama administration says it will ban federal employees from sending text messages while driving government vehicles. The administration will also seek regulations bannning truck and bus drivers from texting while driving. The announcement came at the end of a two-day conference in Washington devoted to the issue of distracted driving.

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In an executive order issued today, President Obama is banning federal employees from texting while driving government vehicles. The administration will also move for a similar ban on truck and bus drivers. The announcement came at the end of a two-day summit here in Washington, devoted to the issue of distracted driving.

NPR's Brian Naylor has the story.

BRIAN NAYLOR: The meeting rooms of a downtown Washington hotel were filled with policymakers, bureaucrats, entrepreneurs and the relatives of victims, like Neha Dixit. Her younger sister was killed when the driver of the car she was riding in, reached for something in the back seat and hit a bridge abutment.

Ms. NEHA DIXIT: We need to understand that the people who are on the road are somebody's sister, someone's mom, someone's dad. And if we understand that we might not check that text message or email or put on our make-up because that's not as important as the human life.

NAYLOR: The government says nearly 6,000 lives were lost in the U.S. last year in accidents caused by distracted drivers. Studies have shown that a driver who takes his eyes off the road for just five seconds to check a message or take a call can travel the length of a football field. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have banned texting while driving. Seven states and D.C. have banned use of hand-held cell phones. But not all states are receptive. Representative Steve Farley, a democrat in Arizona, has been pushing for a cell phone ban in his state for three years, but opponents have blocked even a hearing on it.

Representative STEVE FARLEY (Democrat, Arizona): I think they see it as part of the nanny state. And they see that as government getting into people's personal lives where it shouldn't go. But they're not really accepting the fact that we're not just protecting people from themselves, we're protecting people from the other people they will run into while they are texting.

NAYLOR: Democrats in the U.S. Senate led by New York's Charles Schumer have proposed legislation that would deprive states of their federal highway dollars unless they ban texting while driving. The Obama administration hasn't taken a position on the bill. Government research shows the worst offenders are young drivers. High school classes were encouraged to tune into a Web cast this morning for some real life lessons about the dangers of texting while driving. Among those who spoke was Reggie Shaw, now 22, who ran a median on a Utah road while texting.

Mr. REGGIE SHAW: In this other car there were two men who were both killed on impact. Two men, who were fathers, were husbands, they cared for their family, wanted the best for them. And because of my choice to text and drive, I took their lives. I changed the lives of these families. I changed my life forever.

NAYLOR: Shaw went to jail for 30 days as a result of his actions and Utah now has the nation's strictest texting laws. Dave Teeder(ph) who's 12-year-old son was killed by a driver on a cell phone who ran a red light, says legislation alone is not enough.

Mr. DAVE TEEDER: I lost my son to a cell phone driver. I was a heavy cell phone driver prior to that, and decided to not to use my cell phone after I got all this research and it was hard for me to do. I have more motivation than anybody in the world. And, you know, it took me probably six months before I got good at it.

NAYLOR: Teeder says the answer may lie with innovation. He's working with a company to develop technology that can detect when a cell phone is in motion and automatically divert calls and texts.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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