The Department of Transportation began a distracted driving summit this week by announcing new regulations aimed at reducing texting while driving. The most recent statistics from the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that accidents related to distracted driving killed 5,474 people last year and injured 448,000.
The newest cell phone laws prohibit commercial truck and bus drivers who are on the job as well as drivers transporting hazardous materials from texting, announced Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. In addition, train operators are restricted from using cell phones and other electronic devices. Secretary LaHood also identified over 550 companies in the United States that have committed to implementing anti-distracted driving policies next year.
According to NHTSA, 16 percent of traffic fatalities in 2009 occurred in accidents that were linked to distracted driving, up from 10 percent in 2005. Young drivers – those under the age of 20 – accounted for the greatest proportion of distracted drivers. So far, 30 states and the District of Columbia have broad bans on texting while driving and eight states have bans that apply only to novice drivers.
In January, federal regulators proposed guidelines for states to create laws that would ban texting behind the wheel. Violators would face a minimum fine of $75 and action against their driving privileges. If an accident results in serious injury or death, a texting and driving offense could be considered a felony.