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Distracted drivers in focus

WASHINGTON — U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Tuesday announced plans to convene a national summit to study the problem of texting while driving and other distracting behaviors that take drivers' focus off the roads.

The announcement trails several fatal car, truck and mass-transit accidents involving drivers who were text messaging — as well as revved-up efforts by states and Congress to curb similar behind-the-wheel distractions.

"If it were up to me, I would ban drivers from texting," LaHood said in the announcement at the Department of Transportation headquarters in Washington.

He acknowledged that laws — including those prohibiting drunken driving — are often insufficient without education and enforcement.

Upon completion of the summit, scheduled for late September, LaHood plans to announce a list of "concrete steps" to curtail distracted driving, possibly including education and awareness campaigns alongside ongoing legislative efforts.

A bill introduced in the Senate last week, if passed, would pressure the states to pass their own laws banning anyone from texting on cell phones or similar devices while operating a moving vehicle.

But because driving behavior is a state issue, the Avoiding Life-Endangering and Reckless Texting by Drivers ("ALERT Drivers") Act would threaten states with loss of highway funding if they did not enact adequate legislation.

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have already passed laws prohibiting texting while driving. Last week New Hampshire and Oregon became the 15th and 16th states to enact such prohibitions.

The Florida Legislature has failed to act on numerous bills in recent years that would establish a similar ban.

Wrong-way crash

A New York mother was drunk and high on marijuana when she drove the wrong way for almost two miles on a highway before smashing head-on into an SUV, killing herself and seven others, Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore said Tuesday. The fiery July 26 crash killed Diane Schuler, her 2-year-old daughter, three young nieces and three men in the SUV. The woman's 5-year-old son survived. The occupants of a third vehicle sustained minor injuries. A medical examiner found Schuler's blood-alcohol level was 0.19, more than twice the state's legal limit of 0.08. The autopsy also revealed that Schuler was impaired by marijuana, DiFiore said.

California: The California Highway Patrol said five people appear to have died after their sport utility vehicle crashed and caught fire on a freeway in Mission Viejo.

Distracted drivers in focus 08/04/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 4, 2009 11:48pm]

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