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Efforts to end Distracted Driving continue
When an issue becomes a hot topic there is always the risk that it will burn hot for a time and then burn out. Distracted Driving drew a lot of heat in Secretary LaHood's first year, so it's good to see that the DOT is continuing to stoke the flames. They have announced the second National Distracted Driving Summit for Sept. 21, 2010. “Working together, we can put an end to the thousands of needless deaths and injuries caused by distracted driving each year,” said Secretary LaHood. “By getting the best minds together, I believe we can figure out how to get people to put down their phones and pay attention to the road.” League President Andy Clarke attended the summit last year and it was a successful event. Our involvement in the issue also continues. In early September, just a week before the summit, we will be leading a session on distracted driving, based on our Distracted Driving report, at the Pro-Walk/Pro-Bike Conference in Chattanooga, TN.
The efforts of local advocates continue as well. Washington State recently upgraded their law from secondary to primary enforcement. This means that drivers can be ticketed for distracted driving without having committed an additional violation. Dave Janis, the policy director of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington, sent me a copy of the rack card from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. The Alliance is distributing thousands of them. The card informs drivers of the new handheld cell phone and texting ban and the accompanying fine. On the back it gives a rather upsetting example of a fatality -- that of a nineteen year-old local resident -- caused by texting while driving.
This kind of education, combined with enforcement, is a significant part of the battle to change driver behavior and make the roads safer for bicyclists and motorists alike. As Lehman Holder, a Vancouver WA resident (and League member) who testified in favor of upgrading the distracted driving law told me in an email, "Will the upgrading of this law prevent future injuries or fatalities? Only time will tell, but I personally think it will also take some kind of "culture change," for people to stop texting/talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving, similar to when not using a seat belt while driving became illegal. There was a lot of grumbling and complaining about that, but now probably 95% of drivers attach their seat belt out of reflex when they get in their vehicle."