Thus far, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s war on distracted driving has been largely a rhetorical hobbyhorse, giving the good Secretary a crowd-pleasing speech topic no matter where he finds himself. After calling the situation “an epidemic,” LaHood held a summit at which it was agreed that distracted driving is bad, especially when it causes deaths. Federal employees were subsequently barred from texting while driving government-owned vehicles during work hours. And that was just about it. Apparently chastened by his big build-up and lack of pay-off on this issue, LaHood has kept himself busy with the Toyota debacle of late, leaving distracted driving largely alone since last summer’s summit. Until he remembered that there was one crucial tool in his bureaucratic bag of tricks that he hadn’t yet used: the photo op.
LaHood spent $400,000 out of his budget to support pilot programs in Hartford, CT and Syracuse, NY aimed at “highly visible enforcement” of state laws against cell phone use while driving. The program is modeled on the DOT’s “click it or ticket” campaign which sought to raise awareness as well as enforcement of state seatbelt laws. LaHood explains on his Fastlane blog:
through all of my work to reduce this deadly epidemic, I have noticed one constant point of resistance: people asking, “What’s the point of these laws? It’s not like we can enforce them.”
Today, in Hartford and Syracuse we begin testing the idea that enforcement can change behavior by applying the lessons we learned when people raised the same criticism of seat belt laws or drunk driving laws.
The idea is to test tactics that could be used on a wider basis, but more realistically, it’s just another way to raise awareness. As LaHood puts it:
Look, distracted driving is not just a technology problem; it’s a human problem. And only by changing human behavior can we make our roads safer from this threat.
Together, I know we can do that.