U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has called for a federal law to ban talking on a cell phone or texting while driving any type of vehicle on any road in the country.
Tough federal legislation is the only way to deal with what he called a “national epidemic,” he said at a distracted-driving summit in San Antonio, Texas.
LaHood said it is important for the police to have “the opportunity to write tickets when people are foolishly thinking they can drive safely or use a cell phone and text and drive.”
LaHood has previously criticized behind-the-wheel use of cell phones and other devices, but calling for a federal law prohibiting the practice takes his effort to a new level.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 3,000 fatal traffic accidents nationwide last year were the result of distracted driving.
But Gary Biller, president of the National Motorists Association, said laws banning specific actions like talking on a phone or texting are not necessary because those actions are already covered by existing distracted-driving laws. It would be more productive, he said, to invest resources in campaigns that discourage inattentive driving in general.
“It shouldn’t matter if the driver is distracted by a conversation with another vehicle passenger, tuning the radio, eating a snack, or talking on a cell phone,” Biller said in a statement. “Existing laws cover all those distractions and more.”
LaHood said, however, he was not as concerned about people who eat, apply makeup, or perform other distracting activities in cars because “not everyone does that.”
LaHood was joined by people who have been hurt in accidents caused by motorists talking on cell phones, including children in wheelchairs who were paralyzed.
LaHood said his department was researching the effect that hands-free devices and new systems like Ford Motor Company’s Sync have on distracting drivers. He said he has called the CEOs of major car companies and encouraged them to “think twice” before placing too many Internet-based systems into new cars.