U.S. Bans Commercial Drivers From Texting At Wheel

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced Tuesday a full ban on texting while driving for all bus and truck drivers. This extends a similar ban on federally owned vehicles that came from the distracted-driving conference held late last year.

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Its tempting, but now illegal. The Obama administration today banned texting while driving for many commercial truck and bus drivers. The national ban was announced by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and it takes effect immediately.

NPRs Brian Naylor reports on the administration today banned texting while driving for many commercial truck and bus drivers. The national ban was announced by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and it takes effect immediately.

NPRs Brian Naylor reports on the administrations latest efforts in its fight against distracted driving.

BRIAN NAYLOR: LaHood says texting and driving has become an epidemic. So much so, its necessary to ban the practice by commercial truck and bus drivers.

Secretary RAY LAHOOD (Department of Transportation): Today, we are sending a strong message. We dont merely expect you to share the road responsibly with other travelers, we will require you to do so.

NAYLOR: LaHood cited studies which show texting drivers are about 23 times more likely to get into a crash or near miss than drivers not distracted. Texting drivers take their eyes off the road for an average of nearly five seconds which at 55 miles per hour means the driver is traveling the length of a football field plus the end zones without looking at the road.

Nineteen states and Washington, D.C. have laws in place banning texting. The new federal ban affects all truck drivers and bus operators with more than eight passengers. Those who found in violation will be subject to a $2,750 fine. But LaHood can see its enforcement wont be easy.

Sec. LAHOOD: Its the most difficult thing that we face right now, the enforcement part. That really is. And D.C. is a classic example of it. Just drive around and everybodys got a cell phone in their ear. And its illegal.

NAYLOR: The commercial truck industry supports the new ban. The president of the American Trucking Associations, Bill Graves, appeared at todays news conference alongside LaHood and other administration officials. He said the prohibition on texting on hand-held devices was appropriate, but he indicated further steps by the government might be more problematic.

Mr. BILL GRAVES (President and CEO, American Trucking Associations): I think, you know, the agency and all of us face a challenge in getting to that point to where we can be assured that were never distracted in our car and our commercial vehicle because that becomes, you know, when we turn our radio on and when we try to eat our cheeseburger while were driving along, I mean, there are things that are going to be difficult to get your arms around.

NAYLOR: LaHood has made distracted driving a focus of his attention as transportation secretary and he hopes to go further. The next step is a rule that would ban truckers from using what are known as fleet management devices, which are essentially on-board computers that issue truck drivers delivery pick up instructions and are wired with a GPS device for directions.

The agency is also considering a rule to ban all cell phone use by commercial drivers. LaHood also expressed concern over the auto industrys increasing fascination with Internet capable devices. Ford recently introduced a system that can turn a car into a mobile Internet hotspot. Other manufactures are developing on-board Web browser, restaurant guides and 3D maps. LaHood is clearly frustrated.

Sec. LAHOOD: When Ive suggested to our people, we have a little sit down with the auto manufacturers and talk to them about this. To put more technology doesnt meet the high standard that Ive been talking about. It just simply doesnt. You cant drive safely when youre trying to adjust your GPS system or the radio.

NAYLOR: The Obama administration has already banned texting by federal employees driving government vehicles. And a measure has been introduced in the Senate that would require all states to ban texting while driving or lose a portion of their federal highway funds.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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