Yesterday, The Century Council attended the National Distracted Driving Summit with more than 300 other highway safety advocates, agency officials, crash victims, legislators, academics and industry representatives to examine and discuss the risks posed by distracted driving. United States Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood kicked off the summit which was attended by every major news outlet including MTV. Secretary LaHood described distracted driving as a menace to society and urged personal responsibility. Panelists attempted to define the problem and explain existing data. While many studies on the issue exist, data is difficult to obtain. Further, this issue poses research and legislative challenges: technology is changing so quickly that it outpaces research and laws.
There are 3 major types of distraction: visual (eyes off the road), manual (hands off the wheel) and cognitive (mind off the road). Presenters discussed a variety of distracted driving activities – some technological and some not - and assessed the risk of each one. Dr. John Lee of the University of Wisconsin – Madison states that texting while driving is a “perfect storm,” combining all 3 types of distraction and said that it poses the greatest risk, especially among young drivers.
Attendees also learned that although people surveyed by AAA deemed texting while driving and talking on a handheld cell phone unacceptable driving behaviors, many of those same respondents claimed to have engaged in these risky behaviors in the previous month. Changing the culture regarding this issue will be a key challenge.
A second panel examined exactly how risky distracted driving is and presented data on the issue. The final panel of the day focused on technology and how it can be helpful in developing in-vehicle safety systems but also provides a tempting distraction. Discussion centered on a need to carefully study the issue and look for research-based solutions.
United States Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) addressed attendees regarding their legislation that would require all states to ban texting while driving or face withholding of 25% of their highway funds.
Tomorrow the program will begin with a teen driver panel followed by state legislators and finally a lessons learned panel. It will conclude with Secretary LaHood rolling out the Administrations action plan for tackling this problem. The Century Council has and will continue to address the danger of teen distracted driving.