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New campaign seeks to get teen drivers off their cellphones

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Today’s teenagers came of age at the same time as cellphones displaced spare change in every purse or pants pocket, so it’s no surprise younger people are more at ease chatting while they drive.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Monday used another survey that shows just that to launch a new effort to help parents and teachers educate teens about the risks of distracted driving.

Speaking at the Consumer Reports headquarters in Yonkers, N.Y., he said the survey by the Consumers Union found that younger drivers were less likely to see texting or talking on cellphones while behind the wheel as a danger.

The poll says 63 percent of young people acknowledge driving while using a cellphone, and 30 percent say they have sent text messages while driving.

“We know that educating people about the risk of distracted driving works,” said Jim Guest, president of the nonprofit group that publishes Consumer Reports. “This partnership is devoted to spreading the word about the dangers of distracted driving and specific steps you can take to make a difference.”

A free guide on distracted driving for parents and educators is available on the Transportation Department’s distracted driving Web site, distraction. gov. The DOT and Consumer Reports are sending a public service announcement to television outlets, and the guide will be highlighted in a Consumer Reports video to air in retail stores in April.

LaHood also released the latest video in the “Faces of Distracted Driving” series on the DOT Web site and the agency’s YouTube channel. It features Miss South Dakota, Loren Vaillancourt, whose brother was killed by a distracted driver in 2009.

According to the DOT, nearly 5,500 people in the United States were killed and almost half a million were injured in accidents related to distracted driving in 2009. Eighteen percent of those fatal accidents involved the use of a cellphone, DOT said.

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