ARI SHAPIRO, host:
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood remains focused on distractions behind the wheel. LaHood has announced a ban on texting while driving. It applies to people who drive commercial trucks and buses. Many of those drivers support the ban, as NPR's Adam Hochberg reports.
ADAM HOCHBERG: Nobody knows, for sure, how many accidents result from truck and bus drivers trying to text behind the wheel. Distracted drivers aren't likely to admit they took their eyes off the road, and it's hard for police to know in retrospect what was going on inside a vehicle before a wreck.
But in the handful of cases where the link is known, the results often have been tragic. Kim Heard(ph) lost her 26-year-old daughter Heather two years ago, this month, in an accident near Orlando.
Ms. KIM HEARD: And just undescribable(ph), and we will never ever be the same.
HOCHBERG: Heather and her fianc� were on their way to meet a wedding planner when a semi smashed into a line of cars at a red light. Heather was one of two people killed - her fianc� was injured. The truck driver told police that just before the accident he was trying to send a text message to his company.
Ms. HEARD: He was cresting a hill and there were 10 vehicles stopped at a traffic signal and one witness that was on the road there, said that his head was down. So, he was playing with whatever device while he was traveling 65 miles an hour.
HOCHBERG: The trucker survived the accident and was cited only for careless driving. He later died from cancer. Meanwhile, Kim Heard and her husband have become activists. They're among a growing number of victims' families fighting for tougher laws against distracted driving. So far, 19 states have banned texting behind the wheel, and with yesterday's order, handheld text devices are now illegal nationwide for drivers of vehicles that the federal government regulates - trucks and large buses.
Aliza Ski(ph), whose 13-year-old daughter was killed by a distracted trucker, praised the Transportation Department action but said more must be done.
Ms. ALIZA SKI: I think it's a baby step in the right direction. People just really need to become educated on how dangerous this is and that it's hurting people and it's taking lives.
(Soundbite of trucking moving)
HOCHBERG: Both the American Trucking Association and the American Bus Association say they support the federal ban, as do many rank and file drivers. At a rest area along Interstate 85 near Greensboro, North Carolina, trucker Ronnie Hampton was happy to hear about the ban, and about the $2,700 penalty for commercial drivers who violate it.
Mr. RONNIE HAMPTON (Trucker): I ain't got nary problem with it. If you're out there and you see people with the phone up in their fingers and got both thumbs on it with their knees up against the steering wheel - you know, that's ridiculous.
HOCHBERG: Do you use one of those things?
Mr. HAMPTON: No, whenever I'm driving? No. I don't use my phone.
HOCHBERG: In downtown Washington, D.C. yesterday, motor coach driver Donna White was waiting for a group of tourists. She says she also won't text or talk on her phone while she's behind the wheel.
Ms. DONNA WHITE (Motor coach Driver): I feel that any truck driver or bus driver that would text while they're carrying other people's lives in their hands - it's just not good. I would never do it, and God help the people who are doing it.
HOCHBERG: Yesterday's announcement likely was not the end of the Obama administration's effort to keep drivers' eyes on the road. The Transportation Department also is considering a ban on the dashboard computers that many trucks now use to get instructions from their dispatchers. It may even decide to prohibit commercial drivers from using cell phones at all, even to talk, unless their vehicle's parked.
Adam Hochberg, NPR News.
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