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Today, the Call to End Distracted Driving Goes Global

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood joins UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, and Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin in launching a Global Call to Action on Ending Distracted Driving.

Cross-posted from DOT Blog.

This is a big day. Later this morning, I'll be at the United Nations in New York, joining Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, and Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin in launching a Global Call to Action on Ending Distracted Driving.

You know, 65 years ago, delegates from 50 countries pledged that they would join together to promote the safety and security of all people.

In so doing, they established a remarkable institution, the UN.

And in that same spirit, Secretary General Ban, Ambassadors Rice and Churkin, and I are joining forces and issuing this global call. We'll be joined by FocusDriven founder and President Jennifer Smith who brings with her today Jacy Good, an extraordinary advocate on this issue.

Why are we coming together on this issue?  Why now?

Because, during the last few years, distracted driving has evolved from a dangerous practice to a deadly epidemic. In the United States, it’s an epidemic because everyone has a mobile device--and everyone thinks they can use it safely behind the wheel.

Well, we’ve learned. They can’t. 

Tragedy after tragedy affirms that fact. In the US alone, distracted driving resulted in nearly 6,000 deaths and more than half a million injuries in 2008--every one of them completely preventable.

As I've said before, the victims of these crashes aren’t just statistics. They’re parents who lost children, children who lost parents.

When we think of the world's leading causes of death, we think of diabetes or HIV/AIDS, malaria or tuberculosis. But distracted driving is quickly spreading, making its tragic mark around the world. In this era of multitasking and hyperconnectivity, distracted driving isn't just another risk. It's one of the world's most overlooked public safety crises.

Today, we begin working together to end that crisis.In the US, 25 states have prohibited text messaging while driving; six states and the District of Columbia have also prohibited talking on hand-held mobile phones.

Many other governments are also attempting to eradicate distracted driving. To date, 32 countries--including Brazil, France, Japan, Jordan, Spain, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and Zambia--have passed laws that restrict drivers' use of hand-held devices. Portugal has outlawed all phone use -- hand-held or hands-free -- in the driver's seat.

Today, Secretary General Ban will announce a directive barring the UN Secretariat's 40,000 employees from text messaging while operating vehicles on official business. This measure is similar to an executive order President Obama signed last year banning nearly 4 million federal employees from texting behind the wheel.

But getting new regulations on the books and ensuring that police write tickets will be effective only if people around the world understand that distracted driving is both dangerous and irresponsible. Our global call to action is as much about mobilizing people as it is about moving governments and businesses.

That's why we're also asking leaders to educate their citizens through aggressive public outreach and media campaigns.

And we're pleased to model that call for outreach with our "Tweet heard 'round the world" and "Facebook wall scrawl" events. So, if you're on Twitter or Facebook, please post this message:

The global call to end distracted driving--how will you respond? Hang up. Put it down. Just drive. #gcedd

And please share these events with your Facebook friends and your Twitter followers. Participation is easy, and it can save lives.

This is the global call, and we are responding. Won't you please join us? 

Ray LaHood is the Secretary of Transportation