At distracted-driving conference, LaHood calls for crackdown

Obama administration officials, including Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, said during a summit on distracted driving that it had made progress in pushing states to target drivers who send texts and use mobile devices from the road but too many people are being killed.
By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 22, 2010; 12:07 AM

Cigarette packages and alcoholic beverages carry labels warning that they may be hazardous to your health. Should cellphones come with them, too?

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood proposed the idea Tuesday at a conference he convened in Washington to address the issue he has made his pet passion: distracted driving.

The labels would warn that using a cellphone while driving is dangerous.

"That's something I just thought of while I was sitting there," LaHood said when the group broke for lunch. "It's just common sense to me. I'm going to talk to the [cellphone] industry about it."

LaHood announced last week that research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that distracted driving led to 5,474 highway deaths and 448,000 accidents last year, which was 16 percent of the national total.

Asked whether such warning labels should be required in all new cars, LaHood said, "I want to work with the car industry on a few other things before I get to that."

In his opening remarks, LaHood scolded the auto industry for turning cars into entertainment centers.

He said automakers have supported bans on text messaging and handheld cellphone use while driving, but have introduced other distractions.

"In recent days and weeks, we've seen news stories about carmakers adding technology in vehicles that lets drivers update Facebook, surf the Web or do any number of other things instead of driving safely," he said. "Features that pull drivers' hands, eyes and attention away from the road are distractions."

LaHood said he would meet with car companies to discuss new safety guidelines for technology that allows drivers to access the Internet and social networks such as Twitter and Facebook.

"Together, let's put safety before entertainment," he told the gathering of several hundred politicians, safety advocates and business leaders.

John Maddox, research director for NHTSA, said dealing with the cellphone issue now may head off larger problems in the future.

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