Distracted driving ‘a menace,’ US says
WASHINGTON - Driving while distracted is a growing peril in a nation reluctant to put down its cellphones and handheld devices even when behind the wheel, the Obama administration declared yesterday. Officials said Congress and the American public must team up to reduce the danger.
Opening a two-day meeting to find ways to reduce drivers’ use of mobile devices, the Transportation Department reported that nearly 6,000 people were killed and a half-million injured last year in vehicle crashes connected to driver distraction. That includes drivers talking on cellphones and texting.
“To put it plainly, distracted driving is a menace to society,’’ Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. “Distracted driving is an epidemic, and it seems to be getting worse every year.’’
The meeting gathered specialists to examine the potentially deadly mix of driving with cellphones, mobile devices, and other distractions that divert attention from the road. LaHood said he would offer recommendations today that could lead to new restrictions on the use of the devices behind the wheel.
While the meeting focused on drivers using cellphones and mobile devices, participants noted that distractions could also include reaching into the back seat, applying makeup, or eating.
“I have nightmares about the last moments of my mother’s life,’’ said Greg Zaffke of Chicago, whose mother, Anita, was killed in May when a vehicle rear-ended her motorcycle at 50 miles per hour. The driver had been painting her fingernails.
Congress is watching the issue closely. Senator Charles Schumer of New York and other Democrats are pushing legislation that would require states to ban texting or e-mailing while operating a moving vehicle or lose 25 percent of their annual federal highway funding.
“We need every state to put safety first,’’ Schumer said.