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At summit, calls for more states to ban texting while driving

Federal officials at the Distracted Driving Summit are urging more states to outlaw driving while texting and some senators have introduced a bill.

By Michael B. FarrellStaff writer / October 1, 2009



San Francisco

It's seems like a no-brainer: texting while driving can be deadly. So why haven't more states banned the practice?

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Some in Congress and US transportation officials are wondering the same thing. In the two-day Distracting Driving Summit, which began Wednesday, officials are nudging lawmakers nationwide to take action.

"To put it plainly, distracted driving is a menace to society," US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said at the opening of the summit in Washington.

Last year, 5,870 people died in vehicle crashes caused by some kind of distraction, according to a report issued in September by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. While the use of a mobile phone – for talking or texting – can't be blamed for all these vehicle deaths, transportation officials have concluded it's one of the leading causes of distractions.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia either have a ban on texting while driving or one coming in the near future, according to the National Conference on State Legislature. Some more states have partial bans on underage or school drivers using the cellphone while driving. The National Conference said Monday that 33 states debated 113 bills to curb driver distraction last year, and that cellphone use, including text messaging, by new drivers was one of the most popular issues debated in state legislatures.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York and some other Democratic lawmakers have introduced a bill to compel all states to pass bans or face a 25 percent reduction in federal highway funding.

"iPhones, Sidekicks and Blackberries are ingenious, indispensable devices. But while they make our lives so much easier, they make driving that much harder," Sen. Robert Menendez (D) of New Jersey said in a statement about the bill. "Texting while driving should be illegal on every road, every railway, in every state. Anything we can do ... to raise awareness and stop texting while driving will save lives – particularly the lives of those new drivers who are accustomed to texting anywhere, anytime. They are at risk, and they put our families at risk."

According to a July study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, simply dialing on a cellphone "made the risk of crash or near-crash event 2.8 times as high as non-distracted driving" and "text messaging on a cell phone was associated with the highest risk of all cell phone related tasks."

But that hasn't stopped drivers for sending a text while behind the wheel. The American Automobile Association (AAA) says that 21 percent of drivers have admitted to sending or reading a text message or e-mail while driving.

"There are many motorists who would never consider drinking and driving, yet they think it's somehow okay to text or e-mail while driving. We need to stigmatize distracted driving to the same degree as drunk driving in our culture, because both behaviors are deadly," said Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of AAA Foundation in a statement.

For anyone who doesn't think texting and driving is a problem, check out this game created by the New York Times that tests your ability to maneuver a car while texting.

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