"Distracted Driving" Gets Increased Attention From Lawmakers, AMA

President Obama signed an executive order banning federal employees from sending text messages while driving government vehicles and while using government-paid cell phones when driving their own cars. The order also bans federal employees from sending text messages from hand-held devices while driving on government business.

The federal government plans to ban text messaging by truckers who travel across state lines and bus drivers and may also ban them from using cell phones while driving, except in cases of emergency.

The executive order was issued after a two-day "distracted driving" conference held in Washington led by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Attendees included policy makers, legislators, 300 academics, telecommunications and automobile industry representatives, and law-enforcement officials, as well as families of people killed by drivers texting or talking on cell phones. Statistics presented include:

• Driving while using a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent. (Carnegie Mellon)

• Nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in crashes involving a distracted or inattentive driver, and more than half a million were injured. (NHTSA)

• Research shows that the worst offenders are the youngest and least experienced drivers: men and women under 20 years of age. (NHTSA)

The American Motorcyclist Association supports even tougher regulations and penalties. The AMA's position paper on "distracted driving" legislation concludes:

"Therefore, the AMA supports legislation that includes enhanced penalty options to be determined by the courts. Examples of penalties include the following, but are not limited to enhanced fines, operator's license suspension, points assessed on an operator's record, community service, and imprisonment. Additionally, the AMA supports the prominent placement of signage that notifies roadway users that the state provides specific sanctions for those convicted of moving violations while operating a motor vehicle in a distracted or inattentive manner. The inclusion of these sanctions depends on a state's current penalty structure of similar-magnitude offenses.

"The AMA has adopted this position statement on distracted and inattentive motor vehicle operation because roadway users such as motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians pay a disproportionally higher price for motor vehicle operator distraction and inattention."

For more information on the summit and Department of Transportation research, log onto dot.gov/affairs/2009/dot15509.htm. To read the complete text of the AMA's position paper, log onto americanmotorcyclist.com/legisltn/positions/distracted.asp.