Lost in all the news coming out this election year is a new initiative by the federal government. They are cranking your tax dollars in to giving you more cell phone tickets:
To prevent deaths attributed to distracted driving, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said Thursday the government will spend $2.4 million to step up enforcement in California and Delaware of bans on texting and cell phone use while driving.
The investment is part of what LaHood called a new "blueprint for ending distracted driving" that includes more education and law enforcement.
The pilot program follows a similar initiative in Hartford, Conn., and Syracuse, N.Y., where vigilant ticketing reduced the frequency of driving while using mobile devices. The result was a 72% drop in texting while driving in Hartford and a 32% decrease in Syracuse, LaHood said.
Today, 39 states have texting bans and 10 ban all hand-held phones. Three years ago, only 18 states had texting laws and seven had bans, LaHood said.
Still, 1 in 10 highway fatalities is the result of distracted driving, resulting in at least 3,092 victims in 2010.
"I call it an epidemic," LaHood said, "despite the fact those deaths are 100% preventable."
LaHood also called on Congress to toughen its laws and enact a nationwide ban on cell phone use while driving.
"It's time for the states that have been lagging behind on distracted driving to step up," said Ellen Bloom, head of federal policy at Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers has called for national guidelines to ensure safe communication and encouraged refinement of hands-free voice-recognition technology.
Automakers like Ford are at the forefront of technology that uses voice commands and steering wheel functions to allow a driver to keep hands on the wheel and eyes on the road in vehicles.
Ron Medford, deputy administrator with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said a study of hand-held devices is under way.
There should be sufficient data to release findings by the end of the year, LaHood said.
The blueprint encourages the 11 states without distracted driving laws to enact and enforce legislation; challenges the auto industry to adopt guidelines to reduce potential distractions on devices built or brought into vehicles; partners with driver education professionals to educate new drivers about the perils of driver distraction; and offers information on what the public can do to end this problem.
"The No. 1 way to convince young drivers to stop texting behind the wheel is to educate them on just how deadly the risks are, and that's a big part of this blueprint," Bloom said.
"We can put an end to it," LaHood said of the senseless deaths.