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US DOT Secretary Ray LaHood will hold 'Distracted Driving Summit'

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on August 4th, 2009 at 9:25 am

National Bike Summit - Day two-5
US Dept. of Transportation
Secretary Ray LaHood.
(Photo © J. Maus)

Obama's Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced today that he'll hold a summit in September to "address the dangers of text-messaging and other distractions behind the wheel."

The summit is slated for late September in Washington D.C. and, according to a US DOT press release it will include senior transportation officials, elected officials, safety advocates, law enforcement representatives and academics.

In a statement about the summit, LaHood said, "If it were up to me, I would ban drivers from texting, but unfortunately, laws aren’t always enough."

"We’ve learned from past safety awareness campaigns that it takes a coordinated strategy combining education and enforcement to get results. That’s why this meeting with experienced officials, experts and law enforcement will be such a crucial first step in our efforts to put an end to distracted driving."

Citing several deadly "accidents" (he should stop calling them accidents if he really wants to combat the problem) in the past year that have brought attention to the issue, LaHood said, "The bottom line is, distracted driving is dangerous driving."

After the summit, LaHood will announce a list of "concrete steps" he and his office plan to take in order to "make drivers think twice about taking their eyes off the road for any reason."

He didn't mention it in the formal announcement of the summit, but LaHood's tough words for texting while driving and distracted driving in general almost certainly have something to do with extensive reporting on the subject of late by the New York Times. Last month, the paper got a former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to confirm that the federal agency had withheld warnings about the dangers of distracted driving for political reasons.

More info on the summit has been posted on the DOT website. You can also follow the new Distracted Driving Twitter feed.

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Comments
  • Vance Longwell August 4, 2009 at 9:41 am

    Enforcing a ban will be tough, and expensive. Writing the legislation will be tough and expensive.

    I used to get all up in arms about mobile phone use in a car. Screamed bloody murder about it only to have it pointed out that the numbers don't support the concern.

    Come to find out, the numbers were being doctored. Thanks guys. I looked like a freak advocating bans 10 years ago. During that time, I've been out there living the life. What I found is that the umbrella that protects me on my bike, also protects me from this added safety concern.

    My bike is supremely maneuverable. Stop on a dime, turn instantly, and all from the top speed I'm capable of attaining. I use this added maneuverability to pad my skin-bag from the pavement. This umbrella of safety has been very effective at protecting me from cars doing all things imaginable. Including the asinine, short-sighted, irresponsible, practice of taking a phone call while driving. I'm left feeling that even gross negligence can't hurt me, and that a motorist would actually have to consciously try hitting me to even have a chance.

    Making this law will not stop stupid people from driving. Stupid people are plenty capable of killing, phone or no. I don't want anymore police out there, and I don't think we have sufficient police resources to add this to their list. Add to this, that the option of not riding your bike is still a freedom you possess, and I seriously can't support a ban.

    I'm all for castigating, educating, and whatever else we wanna do to send the message, but more laws are just not the answer.

    We're making everything a darn criminal act. Out of control enforcement lives in a world where they can harass us by simply counting on the fact that in a country where everything is illegal they are bound to be able to make something stick. This situation gives police the ability to skirt our constitution and return to policing those of us they, "...just don't like the look of...". Which could easily be anybody on a bike.

    Less laws, more brains please.

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  • chad August 4, 2009 at 10:14 am

    Funny, even though my bike was "supremely maneuverable" I still got hit and thrown twenty feet by a distracted driver blowing a stop light.

    Must of had the wrong frame geometry or something.

    Any ideas how I can prevent this is the future (better wheelset or Campy parts perhaps?)

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  • E August 4, 2009 at 10:20 am

    Laws are useless without effective enforcement. Will that part happen? Will it be a sufficient detriment to actually make people think twice? That's the hard part, really.

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  • Esta Nevando Aqui August 4, 2009 at 10:33 am

    @ #3: Exactly.

    The irony here is that the streets would already be *way* safer if existing traffic laws were effectively enforced.

    For example, Jonathan profiled the recent ODOT report showing that excessive speed was reasponsible for the lion's share of colissions in Oregon (as elsewhere). But the police do not effectively enforce the speed limit laws. Drive around anywhere at any time of the day and you will observe the vast majority of motorists on the roadway speeding.

    So clearly adding just another law is an empty gesture that (in this case) liberal legislators do to win points with their constituencies, without actually solving the problem.

    The police say they don't have enough resources to effectively enforce traffic laws. Their strategy is basically to stand back and try to target the worst offenders at times when the traffic stops will be most visible to others and provide some deterrance.

    It doesn't really work. But so far I haven't seen anything close to the political will we need to solve this problem.

    Hell, in a country spending millions of dollars each day to occupy a country on the other side of the world while people in our own nation go hungry and without basic health care, I'd say our priorities are so far out of whack that it will be a long time indeed before we wake up and get this problem addressed in any meaningful way.

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  • Bob_M August 4, 2009 at 10:34 am

    Your faith in a guardian umbrella of situational awareness is commendable, but to assume that when in traffic you can control all outcomes is foolhardy. Every rider trusts other road users to abide by legal and common sense rules. Distracted drivers abandon both types of rules. Fervent libertarianism that eschews rules grants drivers (and cyclists) the freedom to behave as irresponsibly as they want. To say that new laws reinforce a nanny state ignores the fact that society changes. The founding fathers did not envision cell phones or 200 mph vehicles, but they did envision that society would change and they created legislative bodies to keep society’s rules current.

    Still this is a moot point because the legislative bodies are bought and owned by special interests (including cell phone service providers). The health, safety and welfare of the population are concepts that do not contribute to political campaign coffers so don’t expect laws to enforce common sense rules any time soon.

    The simple technological fix would be to have the GPS in each new phone to shut down that phone at 10 mph. Busses and trains could have decoders that would enable phones while moving. Don’t expect this to happen either.

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  • wsbob August 4, 2009 at 11:07 am

    As I read the article above, LaHood has not yet proposed a law...the step he's taking is to conduct a summit to “address the dangers of text-messaging and other distractions behind the wheel.” And I'd tend to think that's exactly the right idea at present.

    There's no use in limiting concerns about dangerous distracted driving to only cell phone use, because there are so many other distractions as well that vehicle operating road users engage in and allow themselves to be subjected to. Besides cell phone use and texting, we've heard many of the others before, such as reading the paper, eating, fiddling with the CD collection, wrangling pets, battling undisciplined kids.... . Steps need to be taken to reign all of this in.

    Vance, it's unrealistic to expect everyone taking up a bike for transportation to be able to acquire your supremely maneuverable umbrella of safety. That's just not going to happen. For them to be conducive to the use of bikes for transportation by people with average bike in traffic handling skills, roads have to be designed and built assuming average skill levels. For everyone's safety, the people that use these roads have to be trained to eliminate incidental, distracting activities from their driving habits.

    "The simple technological fix would be to have the GPS in each new phone to shut down that phone at 10 mph. Busses and trains could have decoders that would enable phones while moving." Bob_M

    How realistic is that idea? It sounds like a good one whose time has come.

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  • Q`ztal August 4, 2009 at 11:31 am

    Some people simply are unable to maintain the focus necessary to drive a vehicle safely.
    We license people to drive motor vehicles because as a society we recognize the general public harm that a poor driver can cause poorly piloting a 2 ton piece of metal that can easily damage people and property.
    When initially issuing drivers licenses we test for the ability to drive the vehicle, we test for very basic road safety knowledge. Because these are things we can control, or learn, no one complains.
    We also test vision; if a person fails without glasses they are required by law to wear their corrective lenses. We even disallow people with diabetes from driving buses.
    Rather than allowing every person to be licensed and then wondering why there are bad drivers on the road there should be testing to filter this out at the initial licensing step.
    There are reliable neurological tests that can accurately measure the lack of attention span of a potential driver. The main difficulty will be in getting a machine setup in every DMV so that an apathetic civil servant can consistently get accurate results.
    Will it cost money? Yes, lots.
    Will some people be prevented from getting a license? Yes
    What costs do we incur by allowing bad drivers to be licensed?
    Governments justify expensive new roads, highways, bridges by claiming X Millions of dollars of money is lost by traffic congestion.
    This can easily be justified as a preventative measure to stop the billions lost to automotive crashes.
    We can ignore, as a society, the root cause of these accidents: bad drivers.

    We have already decided that the price of high speed freedom is worth more than 43,000 people's lives a year.
    The price of traffic is roadkill and the roadkill is us.

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  • Vance Longwell August 4, 2009 at 11:47 am

    I just don't agree Bob_M. I am the average cyclist and I rarely, if ever, have this never-ending stream of trouble you all seem to have out there. Not you personally, but rather I'm addressing what I perceive as a general sentiment.

    All three times I've been hospitalized by an accident with a motorist, it was totally, and completely my fault. Twice I was legally intoxicated, and the third I was showing off for my preferred gender-pick.

    Other than for that, in 25 years as a vehicular cyclist, and 15 as a professional messenger, I've never once, not once, come even close to getting injured, let alone hit.

    That includes a decade of driving with mobile phone users.

    Why? I'm not special. I'm not strong. I'm not all that smart, and I'm uncoordinated as all get out. I don't go down because I ride defensively. This technique has become lip service for way too many. I can ride circles around anything bigger than me, let alone cars, and do everyday.

    This, "mentality", was lent to me by using a motorcycle, instead of a car, as my first, "car", IMO.

    The problem isn't phones folks, the problem is folks. This should give you a dang pause dangit, dang. A sixteen year old child behind the wheel is the problem. Fighting over infrastructure while it falls to pieces is the problem. Tying bikes to the Church of Green is the problem. Selfish, often ignorant behavior is the problem. Are we gonna criminalize EVERYTHING, or are we gonna take it out behind the woodshed and pretend like we're a community of justice and freedom?

    We can help this problem by reinforcing the practice as socially unacceptable. This will police up the folks who would comply with a law sans enforcement, and leave the aholes free to do what they're gonna do, law or no.

    Same outcome, no law.

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  • Esta Nevando Aqui August 4, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    Blah, blah, blah, my experience is reality for everyone. Blah, blah, blah, Church of Green. Blah, blah, blah, Nanny State. Blah, blah, blah, Native Portlander. Same shit, different day.

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  • Vance Longwell August 4, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    So, #9, I take it your position then is, "blah"? Of course, if I'm so far off base you could easily counter my position then, right? That leaves me wondering why you didn't just counter my point.

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  • Esta Nevando Aqui August 4, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    It gets a little old, Vance.

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  • Vance Longwell August 4, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    Here it is snowing #11 - Well, how do you think I feel? This is like the fourth, or fifth article here supporting mobile phone bans. Nothing new. Just pounding it into the ground in hopes... I go too far, I can't mind-read. It's my second comment on this issue though. If you're a regular, then you know I've decreased comments to once a week or less.

    What's getting old is people coming here from somewhere else trying to tell me how to live. That, my friend, is beyond old. It works for the Native Americans, why not me?

    I don't know why, but I feel you are remorseful. So I'll leave it at this. Surely though, there is a less personal way to counter my position?

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  • Q`ztal August 4, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    Vance,
    Given the balkinization of social groups in the US it's foolish to think that social pressure will have any large scale effect in the country.
    Unless you are Phillip-Morris.

    Look at the Public education and classroom films from the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Those didn't have any significant effect on non-legislated behavior; some would argue that it made it worse. By attempting to make something taboo the activity becomes more attractive to those who feel the need to rebel.
    How should society control or affect the behavior of the part of itself that feels it knows best even in the face of contradictory facts?

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  • Vance Longwell August 4, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    "By attempting to make something taboo the activity becomes more attractive to those who feel the need to rebel."

    I couldn't agree more with you here. However, it's my opinion that nothing says, "taboo", like a law against it. Or, doesn't a ban have the same effect? Or some such.

    You cause me to realize I may be projecting my social guilt a bit here. I stopped smoking due to a perceived social pressure to do so. I reformed my racist ways resulting from a perceived social pressure to do so. I reformed my misogynist ways likewise. I even quit running stop signs, ever, for the same reason.

    I'm pretty easy to push around with your glares, and wagging fingers. You're right in that that may not be true for everyone.

    Ya, Reefer Madness type propaganda is less than effective, but I don't think the context is the same. We've some acceptable history with phones IMO, and I just can't support a ban.

    Of course, the other side of my perfect-world here would be to de-criminalize me yanking you out of your car, and administering education about traffic safety. I'm prolly glad that's not a reality more than you.

    Thank you for at least showing me the respect of countering my point.

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  • Robin August 4, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    In response to #1 - I would agree but you are asking for something that is not possible...more brains, less law. The majority of people will NOT do the right thing, the majority of people have personal agendas, are greedy, feel entitled, or are just simply mean and don't care.
    I have two 6 inch rods, two plates, and sixteen screws holding my neck together (I have no head range of motion) because someone was texting and rear-ended my while I sat at a red light.
    So, since the masses get larger, physics and ratios will explain that the 'immovable' group will grow at the fastest rate. So as each day passes, there are more and more people defined by the first paragraph above. It is only going to become more and more difficult to control, even with law...but that is all we have at this time.
    I hope the punishment is severe enough to make the behavior stop.

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  • Vance Longwell August 4, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    Robin #15, again, not advocating texting, or talking while you drive. Not even commenting on the practice. At issue, is making a law against it. A law that will cost millions to legislate. A law that will take police to enforce. A law banning personal property, and personal liberty to boot.

    I'm not saying keep being dumb. I'm saying we can't afford a law, and even if there was one, who's gonna enforce it? Seriously, folks are hiring their own Pinkerton gangs right here in town, just to keep the guns out of their faces.

    No more cops. No more laws. It's illegal to rear end somebody. Why the extra law?

    Oh, and please, I have every sympathy for your injuries, and respect for your views. I only disagree that there needs to be so many resources thrown at this particular problem.

    I use my camera a lot on my phone. Bans like this threaten my ability to carry it with me for this purpose. Is that fair?

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  • Q`ztal August 4, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    I've been thinking that the only real solution to this problem is automated driving systems. Every time I see a "safe" driver in her 40's applying makeup, a elderly man straddling and weaving over the line between opposing traffic or a car full of teenagers more interested in socializing than driving the vehicle.
    Nothing will stop these archetypes. They are certain in their right-ness and they don't have malicious intent.
    Do we require these people to only drive when taking Ritalin or simply use auto insurance pricing to price the unable out of the driver's seat?
    I am against a thousand "nanny state" laws. I do believe that even without "Jetsons" cars this problem can be solved with just two laws: a vast increase in the skill, and thus training, required to get a driver's license and more draconian punishment for endangering the public in said vehicle.
    If there is an actual fear of accountability and an awareness of the dangers posed to the public by their own driving the roads WILL become much safer.

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    • Zozomon December 14, 2010 at 1:41 pm

      "use auto insurance pricing to price the unable out of the driver's seat"

      I had an awesome idea along these lines. Use the the gps/gsm modem integrated in cars (onstar) to report driving habits to the auto insurer. Responsible drivers who do not speed could sign up and pay less for their insurance, meaning that everyone who didn't sign up would end up paying more. There would be a monetary incentive to sign up for the system and pay less. If it were to catch on it would get prohibitively expensive to either not be monitored or to drive like shit.

      With the right programing and hardware one could monitor more than just speeding. Some cars already have cameras pointed at the driver to enable certain smart features. With the right software this camera could monitor the time the driver spends looking at things that are not the road or their mirrors and adjust their insurance bill respectively.

      This system could also encourage people to drive less as well as driving safer as it could bill based on miles traveled as well.

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  • old&slow August 4, 2009 at 5:13 pm

    Vance, you logic is so flawed and full of holes a fifth grader could debate you. Since texting especially has statistically been proven to be as dangerous as drunk driving, drunk driving shouldn't be against the law? We pass laws all the time that are hard to enforce but give people legal recourse if something happens to them. The 3 foot clearance law is a prime example. I doubt anybody has been ticketed for it but if somebody hits me because they didn't give me that space and I hopefully survived I could have a legal ground to be compensated. The same with texting, drunk driving, running stop signs etc. You just argue to be an a-hole at times although I do enjoy your posts most of the time.

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  • Vance Longwell August 4, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    No old&slow #18 - My logic is just fine. Yes, I also find DUIIs to be over-the-top as well. So, hopefully no surprises there. Don't think past it either, I don't, and wouldn't have the faintest idea what you're talking about. (Sarc... oh forget it.)

    Look man, I've had, "Driving is a privilege", shoved down my throat my entire adult life. I'm guessing you have too. By your logic, you seem entitled to absolute safety participating in something you do quite voluntarily.

    While your personal safety is probably important to you, and that of being compensated, personal freedom is important to me. I've never been compensated for jack, I lack sympathy, sue me. (Think about it) My logic isn't off, I'm just an entirely different person than you.

    It's my position that if you find using our highways so risky the way they are, then feel free to walk, take a bus, or whatever gives you that warm, gushy, safe, and compensated feeling. Which is simply an opinion.

    Ya, I'm pretty much an ahole for wanting to take care of my own business, and having the tiniest faith in my fellow man. Shame on me.

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  • old&slow August 4, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    Sorry Vance, I don't know WTF you are talking about. "Personal freedom"? So are you against any laws. The world should just have total anarchy so you can have your "freedom". I have read your posts, you would be the first person to whine and sue if a drunk ran a stop sign and hit you. Give me a break, this isn't the "wild west", I don't feel entitled to safety, just to common sense norms of a civilized society. Take your moronic anarchist "personal freedom" quest to some new frontier, we live in a city of a million people and shouldn't have to dodge idiots on the road so you can feel entitled to your "personal freedom".

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  • peejay August 5, 2009 at 7:27 am

    I'm OK with libertarians adding their opinions because they'll never be numerous enough to actually get to create the world they imagine in their heads, which is just as well, because it would be a supremely dysfunctional place. Nonetheless, it's a perspective that provides a check on the other extreme.

    Now: in the real world, how do we deal with distracted driving? I look at the example of drunk driving. Years ago, it was routine, and accepted as what you do to get home from the bar, and -- what a riot! the crazy shit we did when we were kids! -- until, over time, attitudes changed. Now, while it still happens, it's much less prevalent, and not socially acceptable. What helped the attitude shift in society was an interesting mix of outrage and motherly scolding, as well as a dose of our puritanical heritage and our uneasy relationship with alcohol. Can that happen with talking and texting -- and eating, and everything else? Probably not. Why? Because we are not ashamed of talking on the phone, like we (secretly) are about drinking. So, I really don't know about this. Laws are one thing, actually enforcing those laws is another, but the next stage is this sense of moral opprobrium against the behavior. I don't know when or if we'll ever be able to get to that point -- at least while we are so car-centric.

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  • Vance Longwell August 5, 2009 at 7:58 am

    "So are you against any laws."

    I oppose writing a brand new law that criminalizes a fairly innocuous behavior. I oppose one law, therefore I support anarchy? Seems a bit of a stretch to me.

    "I have read your posts, you would be the first person to whine and sue if a drunk ran a stop sign and hit you."

    Exactly old&slow. You've never spoken with me, you do not know me, and all you have to judge me by are some hastily penned comments on a leftist propaganda web-site. Besides, why do you keep changing the subject? We're talking about phones, not drunks.

    "I don't feel entitled to safety, just to common sense norms of a civilized society."

    What common sense? Yours? Really, if you think safety is common sense, and you require common sense, aren't you in fact saying you need safety?

    "Take your moronic anarchist "personal freedom" quest to some new frontier, we live in a city of a million people and shouldn't have to dodge idiots on the road so you can feel entitled to your "personal freedom". "

    You can't outlaw idiocy man. It's not right. I don't feel entitled to personal freedom, I am entitled to personal freedom. How much damage to property, person, or whatever, have you experienced from mobile phone using drivers? None? Not a single thing ever? Yet you would support outlawing the practice?

    Okay. If you say so.

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  • peejay August 5, 2009 at 9:04 am

    Vance, I've never been murdered either, but I'm pretty comfortable with laws banning murder.

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  • peejay August 5, 2009 at 9:32 am

    Also, Vance, you said you spent ten years railing against this "fairly innocuous behavior." at least give us our ten years!

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  • Robin August 6, 2009 at 8:32 am

    Vance, and others who feel the same way, I truly believe that if you had experienced the pain and agony of five neck surgeries over a two year period because someone "Who is supposed to be controlling 2000 pounds of rolling metal" injures or kills someone because they didn't have enough sense or DISCIPLINE to refrain while driving, there should be a law to at least help with the lack of discipline...some people need that in order to act right. Sometimes the fear of punishment influences our decisions. I agree it is a shame that there are so many people who do not do the responsible or right thing. Unfortunately, people like me pay a very heavy price for their poor decision making...is that fair?

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