By on April 9, 2010

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.

And by “together” he means, with help from Oprah. Ironically, LaHood’s nearly half-million dollar campaign probably won’t “change human behavior” with half the success of a single Oprah show.

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17 Comments on “LaHood Launches Spring Offensive In War On Distracted Driving...”


  • avatar

    what about distracted bicycle riding?

    • 0 avatar
      gwc

      Take the radios out of all cars. Women putting on makeup and men shaving should be a fine. Make eating and drinking in the car while driving against the law. All mother-in-laws must be put on mute.

      These are all things that are just as dangerous as talking on the phone while driving.

  • avatar
    mikedt

    the only solution to the texting/talking while driving is to raise the fine to a point where it’s in the financial interest of the police/municipality to actually look for people on the phone while driving. If a cell phone call starts costing $500 cops will no longer be hiding in the weeds looking for speeders they’ll be on the road looking for talkers.

  • avatar
    1996MEdition

    Maybe he should go after the cell phone companies. After all, it’s not the driver’s fault that cell phones aren’t designed as driver friendly. I’m sure that chatty or texting drivers don’t intend to be distracted.

  • avatar
    Contrarian

    I see a lot of people who clearly aren’t good drivers at the best of times ignoring the NY State cell-phone-while-driving ban.

  • avatar

    I’m all for this. Texters especially are a menace.

    @1996medition

    the problem has to do with the design of the human brain and the fact that it’s capabilities to disperse attention multiple places are in most cases very limited. http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/super-taskers-can-phone-and-drive-the-rest-of-us-should-shut-up/

  • avatar
    ash78

    If it’s hard to enforce, just make the penalties higher. It’s really very simple.

    As an old economics professor of mine once said, if your state can only afford three troopers, but you don’t want people to speed, then buy those troopers rocket launchers (while making a point about speeding tickets being solely for revenue generation).

  • avatar
    BigDuke6

    “Maybe he should go after the cell phone companies. After all, it’s not the driver’s fault that cell phones aren’t designed as driver friendly. I’m sure that chatty or texting drivers don’t intend to be distracted.”

    1996MEdition
    Please tell me you’re saying this tongue-in-cheek….wait…..you HAVE to be. No one could be that simple minded.

  • avatar
    bmoredlj

    I agree it’s an “epidemic”…apparently at any time up to half of all drivers are on their phone, which means half of all drivers are infected with the idea that talking or texting on the phone while you’re driving is okay. My phone is in my cupholder, and there it stays, unless it’s an emergency. I am giving the environment in which I’m driving my undivided attention, and I expect no less from my fellow drivers. These red light and speed cameras are the wrong way to generate revenue for municipalities and states. The right way to do things is having cops out there in force, keeping a sharp eye out for people not paying attention to what they’re doing, which is operating enormous, potentially deadly hunks of metal. When they spot someone chatting or texting on their cell, pull them over and hit them with an enormous fine, at least $200. They’ll say it’s not fair, but what also isn’t fair is that innocent people have to die just because some drivers feel their phone calls and texts are more important than the lives of others. Enough fines, and people may start to be cured of the illness, and think twice before touching a phone while driving. Even if they don’t, at least the Police will be bringing in revenue – not from automated cameras, but from real observation of far more dangerous distracted driving.

  • avatar

    “Distracted Driving” is a wide field. In order to generate a new source of revenue, it is necessary to reduce this down to cell phone usage while driving. This is fairly easy to spot. Heavy fines will care for a steady income. Problem solved.

  • avatar
    Mungooz

    Can anyone of our distinguished contributing commenters explain to us why whenever a distracted driver crashes into and kills another driver, the victim is never also a distracted driver?

    • 0 avatar
      mikedt

      for the same reason why if a drunk sitting in a parked car is hit, the accident is ruled alcohol related. It molds the statistics the way they like.

    • 0 avatar
      ash78

      I assume your issue is that the victim might have been able to avoid the collision, if only he had been paying attention himself.

      Great point…but as the previous commenter noted, it’s like alcohol. Involvement implies guilt, which is part of the deterrent.

      I’ve driven near the legal alcohol limit many times, but stopped several years ago–my rationale was that I may never have an accident while drinking and driving, but the second someone else hits me, the burden is on me.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    There’s another problem with enforcement: the last driver to force me to engage ABS was pulling out from a stopsign looking only one direction (his right) with phone clamped to ear… in a police car. He looked furious. I suppose I’m lucky not to have been ticketed.

  • avatar
    MarcKyle64

    I have a simpler solution – mandatory jammers that activate whenever a vehicle is in Drive. If YOUR call is important enough to endanger MY life and MY health, then it’s important enough to pull over and deal with. I don’t want your distracted butt anywhere near me on the road. If people complain that the passenger can’t call out, then we use seat weight sensors to deactivate the jammer just like airbag sensors. And expensive, punitive fines akin to DUIs for the scofflaws who deactivate the jammer.

    • 0 avatar
      cmf46

      This is a great potential solution to the texting problem. Please considering contributing it as a comment to the DOT’s new proposed ban on texting at regulationroom.org


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