Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood kicked off the DoT’s first-ever “Distracted Driving Summit” in Washington today with a speech calling texting while driving a “menace to society.” LaHood cited just-released NHTSA data (PDF) showing that 6,000 road deaths, or about 15 percent of the 2008 total, were caused by distracted drivers as evidence of what he termed a “deadly epidemic.” According to the Detroit News, LaHood singled out drivers under the age of 20 as the worst offenders and called for “a combination of strong laws, tough enforcement and ongoing public education.” And though there seems to be little outcry over the singling out of young whippersnappers, the cell phone industry wants to make sure its products don’t become the scapegoat for LaHood’s ominous metaphors. Makeup, GPS systems, food and other distractions are being discussed as potential targets for action. The summit’s media facts page even points out that “distraction from cell phone use while driving (hand held or hands free) delays a driver’s reactions as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent.” Sorry Ford! A Maine law banning all forms of driver distraction is being looked at as an example, but even LaHood concedes that “We cannot rely on legal action alone, because in reality, you can’t legislative behavior. There aren’t enough police on patrol to catch everyone who’s breaking the law.” Which is a fantastic point, but one that’s apparently not stopping LaHood from considering invasive enforcement techniques.
In an ongoing livechat at the DOT website, the question was raised:
James Clawson: Again, it’s going to be almost impossible to prove that someone was texting or surfing the internet while driving. How do they enforce these laws?
Sec’y LaHood’s Team: Good point, James, but I think it may be easier than we know–via our wireless providers.
Fantastic. So, LaHood and company acknowledge they’re tackling an ineradicable issue, but they’re willing to use Patriot Act-level techniques to prosecute it anyway? Any other deep thoughts from Team LaHood?
What about enhanced penalties for killing someone while driving and texting? Like many states do for alcohol offenses or gun offenses.
So now distracted driving is a hate crime?
Panels and discussion are scheduled throughout today, and LaHood will announce an action plan sometime tomorrow. Here’s hoping it doesn’t involve a declaration of martial law, the suspension of posse comitatus and the establishment of re-education camps.