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Secretary Ray LaHood Distracted Driving Press Conference U.S. Department of Transportation

Good morning.  Welcome to DOT.  And thank you for joining us.  As you know, we’ve been on a rampage against distracted driving for nearly two years – encouraging drivers to turn off their cell phones, put them in the glove box, and focus on the road.  We’re here today to affirm:  We will not be deterred by the false choice between addressing distracted driving on the one hand and alternative critical safety issues on the other.  When it comes to driver, automobile, and roadway safety, we will not take a back seat to anyone.  We can and must address all three simultaneously.

That means distracted driving will remain a major part of DOT’s robust safety agenda.  The reason why is clear: Distracted driving is a deadly epidemic.  Look at the facts.  During 2009, distracted driving-related crashes caused at least 5,500 deaths and half-a-million injuries, each of them completely avoidable.  The victims aren’t just statistics.  They’re parents who lost children.  They’re children who lost parents.

When we started on this journey, we would have been hard pressed to imagine that we would come so far, so fast.  But during these last 16 months, we’ve made a lot of progress.

Consider a few examples.  In 2010 alone, legislators in 43 states considered more than 270 distracted-driving-related bills. Because of our collective efforts, 30 states have outlawed texting behind the wheel and eight states have banned handheld cell-phone use for all drivers.

The Obama administration also has made a number of strides.  We banned federal employees -- a workforce of 4 million people -- from texting while driving. We prohibited commercial truck and bus drivers from texting on the road -- and proposed a ban on their cell phone use.  And we continue running two pilot programs -- one in Hartford, Connecticut and the other in Syracuse, New York -- that test whether high-visibility enforcement and public-service announcements can change drivers' behaviors. The early data show that it can.  Handheld cell-phone use in the driver's seat has dropped 56 percent in Hartford and 38 percent in Syracuse — and texting behind the wheel declined 68 percent in Hartford and 42 percent in Syracuse.

Now, this month also marks the first anniversary of one accomplishment of particular importance:   The launch of FocusDriven, the first national organization devoted to ending distracted driving.  I’m thrilled that my dear friend Jennifer Smith, FocusDriven’s president, joins us from Chicago.

As Jennifer will tell you, she and I met during the 2009 Distracted Driving Summit.  We and a few others were preparing to participate on a cable news show – and Jennifer convinced me that DOT should help create a distracted driving advocacy group like Mothers Against Drunk Driving.  So we did.  And during the year since, Jennifer and others have traveled the country doing important and inspiring work – putting a human face on a terrible problem.  Jennifer, I’m proud of your extraordinary courage, tremendous advocacy, and remarkable leadership.  And I’m grateful for your friendship.

Thursday, January 20, 2011