WASHINGTON — Targeting distractions behind the wheel, the Obama administration proposed today to bar truck drivers from sending text messages while hauling hazardous materials.
The requirements would complement separate rules being finalized by the Department of Transportation that prohibit commercial bus and truck drivers from sending text messages on the job and restrict train operators from using cell phones and mobile devices on duty.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was issuing the plans today at a second summit on distracted driving, bringing together government leaders, safety advocates and business groups to discuss ways of keeping drivers' eyes on the road.
LaHood has pushed states to adopt tougher laws against sending text messages from behind the wheel and the federal government has prohibited federal employees from texting while driving on government business. Safety advocates are trying to replicate the success of campaigns in the 1980s that helped reduce drunken driving deaths and increased the use of seat belts.
"We are going to do everything we can to put an end to distracted driving and save lives," LaHood said.
The proposed rule would close a loophole for hazardous material haulers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration does not have authority over most intrastate operators but the federal agency overseeing hazardous materials covers hazmat truck drivers so the rules would ensure that those operators would be barred from texting and using mobile devices.
The summit will highlight efforts by corporations to prevent employees from using mobile devices while driving on company business. LaHood said nearly 1,600 U.S. companies and organizations have adopted policies related to distracted driving, covering about 10.5 million workers. Another 550 organizations, covering an additional 1.5 million workers, have pledged to create anti-distracted driving policies for their employees within the next year.
The federal agency also was announcing interim results of police crackdowns in Hartford, Conn., and Syracuse, N.Y., to enforce cell phone bans.
During two weeks of extra enforcement, police in Hartford wrote nearly 5,000 tickets and Syracuse authorities issued nearly 4,500 tickets for drivers talking or texting on cell phones. Government surveys and observations of drivers conducted during the enforcement waves found declines in cell phone use and texting behind the wheel.
Nearly 5,500 people were killed in 2009 in distracted driving crashes, a 6 percent decline from the number killed in 2008. Safety advocates, however, contend that the numbers may not reflect the true nature of the distraction problem because many police reports don't document whether distraction was a factor in vehicle crashes.
Thirty states and the District of Columbia prohibit drivers from texting behind the wheel; eight states have passed laws barring drivers from using hand-held cell phones.
"People are becoming more and more connected to their worlds and I think it's a matter of the human condition to be connected," said Chuck Cox, chief executive officer of CellControl. The Louisiana-based company supplies technology that blocks the use of a driver's cell phone, laptop or mobile device when a vehicle is in motion.