Since DOT's Distracted Driving Summit in Washington, D.C. last fall, I've been on a rampage against texting while driving. Too many people still mistakenly believe that they can drive and talk or text at the same time.
On Tuesday, FocusDriven's Jennifer Smith and I spoke with CNN about the dangers of distracted driving and the importance of enforcement for the texting bans that are already on the books.
But, we're not the only ones speaking out. Our sense of urgency is spreading, and the momentum against distracted driving is building across America.
Police began a week-long "Phone in One Hand, Ticket in the Other" campaign in Syracuse, NY on Thursday, and one will kick off in Hartford, CT on Saturday. These enforcement waves will crack down on drivers who are talking and texting on their cell phones. When we launched these twin pilot programs back in April, police ticketed nearly4,000 people over the course of just one week.
States are taking action, too. On July 1st, Iowa's texting while driving ban took effect. Similar laws in Nebraska and Kentucky went into effect last Thursday. In South Dakota, the Yankton Press & Dakotan called on the state legislature to follow the example of their neighboring states by passing a texting ban. In Tuesday's editorial, they said: "Sending text messages while driving creates unacceptable risks."
And at DOT, we're continuing to get the word out. On Tuesday, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland spoke about distracted driving at the Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority conference in Palm Springs, CA. Sigma Gamma Rho, a historically black international sorority, worked with DOT back in 2003 to promote the "Buckle Up America" campaign among its network of more than 500 chapters. They've pledged to work with us again to raise awareness about the dangers of texting while driving.
The way I see it, the stakes couldn't be higher. In 2008 alone, nearly 6,000 people were killed and more than a half million more were injured in crashes involving distracted driving.
These numbers aren't surprising. Drivers who send and receive text messages take their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds out of every 6 seconds. At 55 miles per hour, this means that they're traveling the length of an entire football field without looking at the road! It's no wonder that people who text are 20 times more likely to crash than non-distracted drivers.
Now, we've had a lot of success in raising awareness about this dangerous epidemic over the last year. Delaware recently became the 30th state to ban texting while driving. President Obama issued an Executive Order that prohibits texting behind the wheel for all federal employees, and DOT followed it up with a texting ban for commercial truck and bus operators. And we've even got Oprah on our side!
But, there's still work to be done. And as all of these efforts to combat distracted driving around the country develop, I'm touched by how many people have taken up this fight as their own. Lives are being saved every day, and more and more people are choosing to keep their eyes on the road - and off their phones. Our fight isn't close to finished, but I know we've got the momentum on our side.