From Our 2010 Archives

FocusDriven Seeks to Crack Down on Distracted Drivers

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Jan. 12 (HealthDay News) -- More than 500,000 people were injured and nearly 6,000 people were killed last year in motor-vehicle accidents involving a driver who was distracted while using a cell phone or texting device, the U.S. Department of Transportation reported Tuesday.

To cut down on the growing number of injuries and deaths caused by distracted drivers, federal officials and safety advocacy groups have joined forces to get states to ban such activities while driving.

"We are on a rampage about this," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said during a Tuesday afternoon press conference. "Distracted driving is a serious, life-threatening epidemic that steals loved ones from us and puts responsible drivers in danger."

Accidents involving cell phone use and texting are "entirely preventable," he said.

An estimated 100 people die every day in traffic accidents in the United States, National Safety Council President Janet Froetscher said during the press conference. A year ago the council called for a total ban on cell phone use while driving, she said.

"Twenty-eight percent of all crashes are caused by the use of cell phone and texting devices each year," she said.

"We estimate that 25% of crashes, or 1.4 million crashes each year, are caused by drivers using their cell phones, and an additional 3% are caused by drivers that are using texting devices," Froetscher added.

Using a cell phone or a texting device while driving increases the risk of an accident eight to 23 times, she said, adding, "No cell phone call or text message is worth somebody's life."

The federal government has already taken steps to crack down on cell phone calling and texting while driving. LaHood said that President Barack Obama on Dec. 30 issued an executive order banning federal employees from using cell phones and texting devices while behind the wheel.

And Congress is considering a bill that would offer states incentives to pass laws against cell phone use while driving, and to punish states without such bans, La Hood said.

LaHood said he believes in tough laws and penalties, but he's not waiting for Congress to act. "We are not going to sit around, we are not going to wait around for Congress -- we're moving ahead," he said.

As part of Tuesday's press conference, LaHood announced the formation of a group called FocusDriven, made up of people who have lost a relative to an accident caused by a driver talking on a cell phone or texting.

"We are molded as a MADD-styled (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) campaign to protect the drivers of our nation's roadways," said Jennifer Smith, a FocusDriven board member who lost her mother in a car accident involving a distracted driver.

"Our mission is to prevent injuries and save lives by eliminating cell phone use while driving," she added.

Said LaHood: "It's up to all of us to keep our eyes on the road every single time we are behind the wheel."

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SOURCES: Jan. 12, 2010, teleconference with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood; National Safety Council President Janet Froetscher; Jennifer Smith, board member, FocusDriven