DOT Announces New Distracted Driving Regulations

On Sept. 21, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood kicked off the 2010 National Distracted Driving Summit by announcing new anti-distracted driving regulations for commercial truck and bus drivers, rail operators and drivers transporting hazardous materials.

During the summit kickoff, LaHood said he is initiating a new rulemaking to prohibit commercial truck drivers from texting while transporting hazardous materials. In addition, he announced that two rules proposed at last year’s summit have now become “law of the land.” Rules banning commercial bus and truck drivers from texting on the job and restricting train operators from using cell phones and other electronic devices while in the driver’s seat were posted Sept. 21.

“We are taking action on a number of fronts to address the epidemic of distracted driving in America,” said LaHood. “With the help of the experts, policymakers and safety advocates we’ve assembled here, we are going to do everything we can to put an end to distracted driving and save lives.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has been working with the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS) to engage the private sector to promote anti-distracted driving policies in the workplace. DOT and NETS announced that almost 1,600 U.S. companies and organizations have adopted distracted driving policies to date, covering approximately 10.5 million workers nationwide. An additional 550 organizations have committed to adopting policies that will cover another 1.5 million employees within the next 12 months.

“I am thrilled that businesses across the country are making anti-distracted driving policies an integral part of their employee culture,” said LaHood. “President Obama led by example last year by banning 4 million federal workers from texting behind the wheel. Employers across America are doing the same to help us set an example and keep our roads safe.”

Enforcement Programs

Also on Sept. 21, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released interim data from its pilot enforcement programs currently underway in Hartford, Conn., and Syracuse, N.Y. Dubbed “Phone in One Hand, Ticket in the Other,” the year-long pilot campaigns were launched in April to test whether increased law enforcement efforts combined with public service announcements can succeed in getting distracted drivers to put down their cell phones and focus on the road.

During two week-long periods of stepped up enforcement to date, police in Hartford have written approximately 4,956 tickets and Syracuse police have issued 4,446 tickets for violations involving drivers talking or texting on cell phones. Before and after each enforcement wave, NHTSA conducted observations of driver cell phone use and collected public awareness surveys at driver licensing offices in each test and comparison site. Based on these observations and surveys, hand-held cell phone use has dropped 56 percent in Hartford and 38 percent in Syracuse to date. Texting while driving has declined 68 percent in Hartford and 42 percent in Syracuse.

“Good laws are important, but we know from past efforts to curb drunk driving and promote seatbelts that enforcement is the key,” said LaHood. “Our pilot programs in Syracuse and Hartford are critical pieces of our overall effort to get people to realize distracted driving is dangerous and wrong. I want to commend the police in Hartford and Syracuse for their excellent work keeping our roads safe and serving as a model for other communities.”

In 2009, nearly 5,500 people died and half a million were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver. According to NHTSA research, distraction-related fatalities represented 16 percent of overall traffic fatalities in 2009.

OSHA Partnership

At the summit, Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis announced a partnership between OSHA and DOT to combat distracted driving.

“It is imperative that employers eliminate financial and other incentives that encourage workers to text while driving,” said Solis. “It is well recognized that texting while driving dramatically increases the risk of a motor vehicle injury or fatality.”

OSHA is launching a multi-pronged initiative that includes:

  • An education campaign for employers, to be launched during Drive Safely Work Week in early October, will call on employers to prevent occupationally related distracted driving, with a special focus on prohibiting texting while driving.
  • An open letter to employers to be posted on OSHA’s Web site during Drive Safely Work Week. The site also will showcase model employer policies and encourage employer and labor associations to communicate OSHA’s message.
  • Alliances with the National Safety Council and other key organizations as outreach to employers, especially small employers, aimed at combating distracted driving and prohibit texting while driving.
  • Special emphasis on reaching younger workers by coordinating with other Labor Department agencies as well as alliance partners and stakeholders.
  • Investigating issue citations and penalties where necessary to end the practice when OSHA receives a credible complaint that an employer requires texting while driving.

“We call upon all employers to prohibit any work policy or practice that requires or encourages workers to text while driving,” said OSHA Administrator Dr. David Michaels. “The Occupational Safety and Health Act is clear; employers must provide a workplace free of recognized hazards.”

To learn more about the 2010 Distracted Driving Summit and DOT’s efforts to stop distracted driving, visit http://www.distraction.gov.

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