Targeting distractions behind the wheel, the Obama administration proposed Tuesday to bar truck drivers from sending text messages while hauling hazardous materials.
The requirements would complement new rules being finalized by the Transportation Department that prohibit commercial bus and truck drivers from sending text messages on the job and restrict train operators from using cell phones and mobile devices on duty.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was issuing the plans Tuesday at a second summit on distracted driving, bringing together government leaders, safety advocates and business groups to discuss ways of keeping drivers' eyes on the road.
LaHood has pushed states to adopt tougher laws against sending text messages from behind the wheel and the federal government has prohibited federal employees from texting while driving on government business. Safety advocates are trying to replicate the success of campaigns in the 1980s that helped reduce drunken driving deaths and increased the use of seat belts.
"We are going to do everything we can to put an end to distracted driving and save lives," LaHood said before the daylong meeting.
The summit will highlight efforts by corporations to prevent employees from using mobile devices while driving on company business. LaHood said nearly 1,600 U.S. companies and organizations have adopted policies related to distracted driving, covering about 10.5 million workers. Another 550 organizations, covering an additional 1.5 million workers, have pledged to create anti-distracted driving policies for their employees within the next year.
Nearly 5,500 people were killed in 2009 in distracted driving crashes, a 6 percent decline from the number killed in 2008. Safety advocates, however, contend that the numbers may not reflect the true nature of the distraction problem because many police reports don't document whether distraction was a factor in vehicle crashes.
Thirty states and the District of Columbia prohibit drivers from texting behind the wheel; eight states have passed laws barring drivers from using handheld cell phones.
"People are becoming more and more connected to their worlds and I think it's a matter of the human condition to be connected," said Chuck Cox, chief executive officer of CellControl. The Louisiana-based company supplies industry with technology that blocks the use of a driver's cell phone, laptop or mobile device when a vehicle is in motion.