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Celebrating Teen Driving Safety at the Illinois State Fair

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood lets Illinois State fairgoers know what the Administration has been up to in the fight against distracted driving.

Ed. Note: Building on the President’s commitment to address issues important to rural Americans, Administration officials are visiting state fairs all summer. Check out a map of where we've been so far and hear about the latest visit, cross-posted from the Department of Transportation's blog, Fast Lane.

Like hundreds of thousands of other Illinois households, the LaHood family circles the middle of August on our calendar each year for the Illinois State Fair.

From livestock, grains, and fruit to textiles, cooking, and other handiwork, the Illinois State Fair showcases the best our state has to offer. It's a pleasure to walk around the halls, stalls and booths to see what folks have proudly displayed. For farmers, artisans, and old friends, the state fair offers Illinoisans a way of saying "This is what we've been up to for the past year."

And I was happy to let fairgoers know what we've been up to for the past year in our fight against distracted driving. So, I joined Governor Pat Quinn, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, Illinois DOT Secretary Gary Hannig, and State Police Acting Director Jonathan Monken at the kickoff celebration of Illinois' kickoff celebration of Operation Teen Safe Driving.

Operation Teen Safe Driving encourages the creativity of Illinois teens to develop programs to reduce fatalities and injuries due to traffic crashes among their peers. They've got a lot to be proud of as they have helped reduce teen fatalities in Illinois by half since 2006.

In 2008, teens formed the largest proportion of distracted drivers in fatal crashes. Texting and talking on cell phones may feel like second nature to a tech-savvy generation, but the truth is, no one can talk or text while driving safely. I commend these young leaders and Operation Teen Safe Driving for helping to keep teens drivers safe.

There has been no shortage of distracted driving news from the Obama Administration this past year:

  • President Obama issued an Executive Order banning texting behind the wheel for government employees on the job.
  • DOT banned texting while driving for commercial truck and bus drivers.
  • We provided state legislatures with sample legislation for banning texting while driving, and 30 states have now passed anti-distracted driving laws.
  • We're holding our second Distracted Driving Summit this September to share new data and best practices.

Look, you see it every day: Drivers swerving in their lanes, stopping at green lights, running red ones, or narrowly missing a pedestrian because they have their eyes and minds on their phones and not on the road. Yet people consistently think they can text or talk on their cell phones while driving safely.

But you can't; you just can't.

So my message to the young people of Operation Teen Safe Driving was simple:

Your safety may boil down to that one decision--the decision you make to pay attention or not, to hang up and drive or not, or whether a text message is worth a trip to jail, the hospital, or worse. Believe me, no message is worth the consequences of this deadly behavior.

Yes, from prize pigs to popcorn, my home state of has a lot to celebrate at this year's Illinois State Fair. And engaging teen drivers and empowering them to make the right choices behind the wheel tops that list.

Ray LaHood is Secretary of Transportation