By on September 30, 2009

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 FordA 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?

The answer?

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.

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21 Comments on “LaHood: We Must Kill Distracted Driving Before It Kills Us...”

  • avatar

    Oh Christ! The Democrats are back in power. In the early 70’s they forced us to have cars that wouldn’t start unless the seatbelts were buckled. Then it was 85 mph speedometers.

    Texting is a phenomenon that is really only a few years old. “ 6,000 road deaths, or about 15 percent of the 2008 total, were caused by distracted drivers“. Has there been a 15% increase in deaths in the past few years?

    I think not.

    God save us from the people who want to save us from ourselves.

  • avatar

    In Ontario our law kicks in tomorrow. So I’m grabbing my Impalas owners manual and cell phone and try and figure out what exactly a “blue tooth”

  • avatar


    Can anyone explain why we can’t use the existing distracted driving laws? Why there has to be a new special law for every distraction?

    (Please sign my petition to outlaw tuning your radio and eating your value-meal fries while driving at

  • avatar

    Your point about numbers is interesting, but there are so many variables involved in traffic mayhem rates–including the efficacy of emergency treatment–that it’s hard to control for all that.

    Yet the evidence that texting is dangerous is very strong. In the 100 Car Study, dialing your cell phone caused as many mishaps as talking on your cell phone, which means the danger per unit time of dialing was far, far greater than that of talking. The authors also concluded that two seconds with your eyes off the road boosted the risk 19-fold. The implications are obvious.

    What is an acceptable death toll from texting? What is an acceptable number of head injuries?

    While I sympathize with your antipathy to nanny-statism, in this case I think it’s justified.

    I also don’t see why enforcement should be such a problem. Cop looks into car, sees texting driver, pulls him over.

  • avatar

    Mikey, by all means get a Bluetooth! You will love it. OTOH does your Impala have OnStar? The personal calling feature is just as good if you don’t use very many minutes. Have your regular cell phone forward to the OnStar.
    If you use the phone a lot while driving the Bluetooth will be a lot cheaper, but otherwise, the results are similar.
    I know people say the hands-free phone is just as bad, but in my experience, it is a whole lot easier, and safer, than hand-held, which should not be used while driving. And texting while driving is idiotic.

  • avatar

    @baabthesaab. The Impala has the Bluetooth and Onstar. I wouldn’t sign up for Onstar. But 15 minutes with the owners manual.and this tech challenged old dude has Bluetooth WOO HOO!

  • avatar

    I’m not a nanny state advocate but something needs to be done about drivers texting. I would prefer the states to handle it but sadly they have shown themselves to be disinclined to act.

  • avatar

    Atta boy, Mikey! You a techie now!
    Enjoy that Bluetooth.

  • avatar


    Every state I have ever lived in has a ‘careless & imprudent’ catch-all (or equivalent) offense already on the books.

    If you are not capable of texting/eating/smoking/talking/recievingoral while you pilot the car, you get cited.

    I’m not saying that those activities are inherently safe, but frankly, if you don’t demonstrate that you are driving unsafely, it’s really hard to get on the bandwagon that you automatically are. Just because.

    Beyond that, it’s just an alternative form of taxation. We know we ain’t gonna stop you. But everytime we see you, we’re gonna fine you.

    I know, I know. It’s all about the children…

  • avatar

    Another set of laws that will be passed — and then enforced as much as our other driving laws (not at all).

  • avatar

    Wrong. Make no mistake, these awful alws will be enforced — by rogue LEOs who just want an excuse to pull people over and arrest them (or get a bribe under the threat of arrest). Selectively enforced, true, but it’s a small help to victims of LaHood.

  • avatar

    I’m old, I admit that, however I believe that 99% of calls made from inside a moving vehicle are totally unnecessary. In 1959 there were no such things as cell phones, yet people got to their destination just fine without calling seventeen of their closest friends to tell them that they were now at the corner of Main & Oak Streets. If we needed to make an important call we pulled over at the next pay phone and made our call in safety, and there were never long lines of people waiting to use the phone. The 1959 version of Texting would have been trying to guide your new Cadillac Coupe DeVille(fins and all) through heavy traffic while typing out a message on your Smith-Corona manual portable typewriter, on the seat next to you.(God forbid that you made an error or two and had to erase a character) I suggest we equip every motor vehicle in America with a cell phone that will only dial 911. That way if you did crash into someone while dialing, help would be there before you could crawl out of the wreckage.

  • avatar
    Austin Greene

    “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.”

    Interesting statement from an American politician.

    From Wikipedia: The United States of America has the highest incarceration rate on Earth. Though home to a little less than 5% of the world population, the US holds 25% of the world’s prisoners.

  • avatar

    “Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent”, a new book by Harvey Silverglate (a self-described liberal, BTW), should be required reading for anyone concerned about federal legal overreach. Or required reading for anyone, period.

    Creeping criminalization of otherwise “victimless crimes” or mere personal lapses of judgement (moral & or otherwise) where there is no criminal INTENT, is a clear and present danger to our individual liberties. It threatens to sever the very cords of mutual civil respect between government and the governed – us.

    That said, in the case of TWD, I also believe it falls in the same category as DUI for the same reasons DUI is a crime: It fundamentally impairs an individual’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle, and thereby threatens the safety and well being of others. I do agree, however, that it would be hard to adequately enforce TWD laws, much more so than DUI enforcement.

    That said, I also believe it is the sole province of the states to come up with adequate laws and enforcement mechanisms to deal with TWD, and NOT the Feds.

    The problem with Federal laws attempting to regulate human behaviors (as with the old double nickel) is that they likely won’t be adequately enforced, won’t solve the problem, they create unfunded mandates for state taxpayers to ultimately pay for, and will only serve to breed contempt and disrespect for the law.

  • avatar

    I think 18 states already have laws against texting while driving. Massachusetts is working on it.

  • avatar

    That pic is scary.

    Distracted driving? Those eyes say “asleep at the wheel” to me. I hope his lack of sleep isn’t chronic, and I pray that he doesn’t drive through my neighborhood!

  • avatar

    My name is Tony LaHood, and I have to tell you guys it’s just weird to see “LaHood” and “menace to society” in the same article.

  • avatar

    God save us from the people who want to save us from ourselves.

    Serious injury and death don’t occur in isolation nor to just the distracted driver. Hard concept? Shouldn’t be.

    As a fellow road user I want these issues tackled.

    It might very well be someone I care about that won’t be injured by another distracted/incompetent/inattentive/reckless driver.

    Or to put it more simply for our American friends, it might mean lower insurance premiums.

  • avatar

    I got a call on my cell the other night one the way home…by the time I got the phone out of my pocket they hung up….end of problem!

  • avatar

    Here’s a wild idea, punish people for the damage they create. A local lady got a slap on the wirst for vehicular manslaughter when she rear ended a stopped car in a construction zone while texting at 65 mph. How about treating people like her like the murderers they are. No need for unenforceable laws, other than the politicians need to look like he/she is doing something.

    By the way, is anybody else tired, annoyed, even po’d by all of the “summits” and “czars.” Who first got the idea to expand the number of bureaucrats by coming up with the position of czar within the federal government?

    P.S. Texing is already illegal in California, and I had a CHP officer tell me that the law is impossible to enforce. How often is somebody going to text while holding the phone up for the cop to see them doing it? Most people text with the phone down in the vicinity of their lap. At least that’s my observation and the officer’s.

  • avatar

    Since police can’t enforce this, more likely outcome is that phones technology will be legislated to link in to the CAN BUS in cars, disabling the phone when it’s traveling more than 5 mph or something. It’d be tricky software, but it’s possible. Older cars without CANBUS will work, but then they’ll all be crushed in the next round of cash for clunkers…

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