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Curbing Distracted Driving

Some years from now, when we have made significant progress defeating the epidemic that is distracted driving, we will remember this moment.

Now, that is not to say that people haven't already been working to reduce this threat for several years. Those people, who were way out in front on this, deserve all the credit in the world.

But, over the last two days, we achieved what can only be described as critical mass.

For that, I thank everyone involved in the Distracted Driving Summit, from DOT organizers to panelists to those following on the Web. And, once again, I want to particularly thank those advocates who have lost family members to this irresponsible driving practice. I admire their courage for publicly telling and re-telling what must be painful, painful stories.

Now the heavy lifting begins, and DOT is ready to lead in that work. In fact, we've already started.

First, as I told the summit, President Obama has issued an Executive Order directing federal employees not to engage in texting when driving government vehicles, when using government-issued electronic devices while driving, and when driving their own vehicles using their own devices while on government business.

The order encourages federal contractors and others doing business with the government to adopt and enforce policies banning texting while driving on the job.

This should be a clear signal to the American public that distracted driving is dangerous and unacceptable. This Administration is leading by example, and this is a very big deal.

Next, DOT will work with Congress, with state and local governments, and with other stakeholders to ensure that this issue is appropriately addressed.

And, we will initiate 3 separate actions:

  1. Make permanent restrictions on the use of cell phones and other electronic devices in rail operations.

  2. Ban text messaging altogether and restrict the use of cell phones by truck drivers and intersate bus operators.

  3. Disqualify school bus drivers convicted of texting while driving from maintaining commercial driver's licenses.
We will also call on state and local governments to make distracted driving part of their state highway plans and to pass laws against distracted driving in all types of vehicles, particularly school buses.

We will encourage states and local jurisdictions to pursue high-visibility enforcement, which has already proven effective in reducing drunk driving.

We'll work with advocates and industry groups to change our culture and mark this behavior as unacceptable.

We won't fix this problem overnight, but we are going to raise awareness and sharpen the consequences.

In the end, however, we cannot simply legislate this problem away. If we're going to improve road safety in this country, we're going to need our drivers to use common sense and show some consideration for other drivers and their passengers, for pedestrians, and for bicyclists.

As the grandfather of nine great kids and as Transportation Secretary, I want to know that our roads will be safe.

By this time next year, every driver in America should be far more aware of the risks and consequences of distracted driving. Driving while distracted should feel wrong - just as driving while intoxicated now feels wrong to most American drivers.

We have made a great start, and we will remember this moment. But these discussions will prove meaningless unless we follow up with action. We should all be encouraged, but none of us should be content.

Ray LaHood is the Secretary of Transportation