He didn't directly say it, but comments made Friday by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood strongly indicated he was poised to push for a total ban on texting while driving by all motorists.
Speaking at a transportation and infrastructure conference in Washington, D.C., LaHood said he was prepared to go on a "rampage" against what he called the "epidemic" of distracted driving. How far is the Department of Transportation (DOT) willing to go to change motorists' behavior? "I'm going to set the bar as high as I possibly can," LaHood said.
"The [message] will still be there when you get to your destination," he said, adding that drivers should "pull off the road" if they need to send or respond to a text. LaHood advised drivers to put their cell phones in their glove compartments when they enter their vehicles to remove any incentive to use them.
LaHood took a dim view of technology that would enable hands-free communication while driving. "It's all a distraction," he said.
LaHood's comments come less than two months after a DOT directive barring texting by drivers of commercial vehicles such as large trucks and buses. The American Trucking Associations (ATA) came out in support of the ban and urged the DOT to extend the prohibition to all motorists.
In a statement at the time, ATA CEO Bill Graves said the DOT has the power to influence states to enforce a texting ban. Graves said ATA will "continue to work with affiliated state trucking associations and diverse stakeholder groups" to extend the texting ban.
According to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) data, drivers who send and receive text messages take their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds out of every six seconds while texting. At speeds of 55 miles per hour, this means that the driver is traveling the length of a football field, including the end zones, without looking at the road, the agency said.
Drivers who text while driving are more than 20 times more likely to get in an accident than non-distracted drivers, FMCSA said.
Truck and bus drivers who text while operating commercial vehicles may be fined as much as $2,750, DOT said.