Last week, the U.S. Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, announced a new regulation/law against texting. Effective immediately, bus and big rig drivers may not text while they drive, and any who do will be subject to a civil or criminal penalty of up to $2,750. The Department of Transportation (DOT) did not specify how this prohibition will be enforced.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOID), one of the country’s largest truck driver associations, has expressed concern, not over the goal of increased road safety, but over the suddenness of this regulation’s effect.
“We support where they are going, but not how they got there,” said Todd Spencer, the OOID’s executive vice president. “We very much share in their goal, but their legal justification for taking immediate action raises many concerns.”
By rushing to implement a new law/regulation, the DOT bypasses the usual rulemaking processes, possibly penalizing drivers inappropriately. Driver actions will not be filtered for unintended consequences and there could be enforcement problems.
Driver Distraction a Focus of This Government
The DOT recently announced the formation of a new group in relation to driver distraction, an advocacy group called FocusDriven. It is to be a nonprofit group supporting the families of distracted driving victims — similar to Mothers Against Drunk Driving except that it is apparently a government group rather than one in the private sector.
The DOT also recently launched a new website called distraction.gov, designed to increase awareness of the risks of distracted driving. Last year, Obama signed an executive order that required federal employees to refrain from texting while driving government vehicles or using government equipment. Employees were ordered to comply with that order by year end.
Distracted Driving an Old Problem
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), almost 6,000 people were killed in 2008 by accidents involving distracted drivers; and more than 500,000 were hurt. There are many ways a driver can be distracted, such as fiddling with the car radio, arguing with a passenger, or simply daydreaming.
But cell phone use and texting have been increasing the frequency of auto accidents related to driver negligence. A Virginia Tech study reported recently by the National Safety Council found that drivers using any handheld device were four times more likely to injure themselves in a car crash.