The U.S. DOT’s distracted driving summit
came to a close today with the unveiling of an executive order from
President Obama that prohibits federal employees from texting behind
the wheel of a government car or using a government-provided messaging
device while driving any vehicle.
In addition, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced plans for three new regulations that set the stage for an eventual nationwide ban on texting behind the wheel.
first forthcoming DOT rule would permanently bar the use of cell phones
or text-messaging devices by rail operators. The second would ban
texting and "restrict the use of cell phones" by truck and interstate
bus drivers. The final rule would revoke the commercial driver’s
licenses of any school bus driver found to be texting behind the wheel.
three proposed rules and the executive order signal that LaHood is
prepared to back up his criticism of distracted driving with concrete
action. In a statement on the Obama executive order, LaHood said the
federal government "is leading by example."
But the second of the DOT’s future rules is sure to provoke a lobbying firestorm by the trucking industry, which already has put
the Obama administration on notice that it views a nationwide ban as
"overkill." And truckers could win exemptions for their on-board
computers before the full text of the trucking rule — no pun intended
— is released.
And it’s worth watching what role the Federal
Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) plays in the debate over
banning texting for drivers of large commercial vehicles, which are
responsible for an estimated 5,000 deaths every year. The FMSCA has known
for three years that cell phone use by drivers poses a demonstrable
safety risk, but it never issued regulations on the practice — and the
Obama administration’s nominee to take over the agency is herself a former trucking industry lobbyist.