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U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today launches a comprehensive strategy designed to address the growing and dangerous practice of using handheld cell phones behind the wheel.
It's called the "Blueprint for Ending Distracted Driving" and it outlines concrete steps that legislators, safety organizations, insurance companies and families can take to reduce the risk created by distracted driving.
Finally, LaHood has acknowledged that government efforts alone have failed to change driver behavior where 'distracted driving' is concerned.
"Personal responsibility for putting down that cell phone is a good first step, but we need everyone to do their part, whether it's passing stronger laws, educating our youngest and most vulnerable drivers or starting their own campaign to end distracted driving," he said.
The 'Blueprint for Ending Distracted Driving' outlines a plan that is supposed to more aggressively recognize the extent and complexity of the problem. Specifically it plans to do the following:
1. Encourage the remaining 11 states that have no laws against distracted driving to enact and enforce this critical legislation.
2. Challenge the auto industry to adopt new and future guidelines for technology to reduce potential for distraction on devices built for or brought into vehicles.
3. Partner with driver-ed professionals to incorporate new curriculum materials to educate novice drivers about driver distraction and its consequences. NHTSA data shows drivers under age 25 are two to three times more likely than older drivers to send text messages or emails while driving.
4. Provide all stakeholders with actions they can take to go beyone personal responsibility to help end distracted driving nationwide.
LaHood also announced that California and Delaware will receive $2.4 million of federal support for pilot programs to examine whether increased police enforcement coupled with advertising (paid media) and news coverage can significantly reduce distracted driving over a widespread area. California's project will focus on Sacramento; Delaware's will be statewide.
Multi-market efforts in these markets will mimic similar projects completed last year in Hartford, CT and Syracuse, NY. The 2011 pilot project found dramatic declines in distracted driving in the two communities tested. Texting dropped 72 percent in Hartford, and 32 percent in Syracuse.
Does this plan instill your confidence that NHTSA, the DOT and Transportation Secretary LaHood can effectively reduce distracted driving?
It looks like he's recognizing that he has little political support for common sense, which would logically impose stricter laws and penalties for motorists using cellphones while driving.
If you want to reduce distracted driving, impose heavy penalties on offenders: How about a mandatory $500 fine for the first offense; $1,000 for the second; and $1,500 for the third strike. Insurance companies can also do their part to convince their insured that distracted driving will cause them to lose their coverage. And,here's something totally off the wall... Instead of setting up roadblocks to check for alcohol, how about police checking for proper insurance. Some states, like Florida for instance, know that about one-third of drivers on the road are uninsured and they basically do nothing about it.
But I digress. Does LaHood's plan make sense to you, or, do you get the same impression I have... that he, NHTSA and the DOT are helpless; throwing a lot of stuff at the wall and hoping something sticks!