Obama Bans Texting While Driving for Guv Workers — And There’s More

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.

The 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.

The 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.

  • huricano

    I find this whole debate a little out of focus, much like the drunk driving crusade. Of course, texting behind the wheel and driving enibriated are both dangerous habits, which require a public response. But the big issue is that cars are dangerous, and the best way to address these problems is not with regulations and police, but with walking, biking, trains, and buses.

  • Jen

    I was thrilled with this until I saw the truck exemption. That’s like saying we’ll regulate firearms, but carve out an exemption for missile launchers.

    Long haul truckers have it hard. It’s a boring job. If they want to knock back a fifth of whiskey while driving a ten-ton vehicle, we should let them. It’s good for morale and job satisfaction.

  • Andy

    All this talk about banning texting while driving is backwards. The only injury caused by texting is sore thumbs. Driving is what causes 42,000 deaths a year, so how about we just ban cars?

  • While I have a significant amount of sympathy with the ban-cars comments, I think the real takeaway point is that driving — as currently constituted — is almost entirely an honor system, and most drivers are without honor. I’m not misanthropic enough to turn this into a grand statement about human depravity. Motor depravity is what concerns me. There’s something about sitting behind the wheel that makes ordinary people irresponsible. I don’t think better driver’s ed would help (though it wouldn’t hurt). The solution is to begin a phased transition away from driving, toward a walkable, bikeable, transit-rich terrain. The good thing about distracted driving is that it’s so outrageous, it actually suggests to a reasonable mind that maybe driving, as the main organizing principle in American life, has finally become obsolete. Gadgets have become like malarial mosquitoes injecting toxins into the great pulsing SUV of the American bloodstream. This just can’t go on … can it?

  • gecko

    this is probably a very good thing and easy to inforce since current cell phone technology includes global positioning and it should be relatively easy to determine if someone is texting and driving; almost automatic surveillance of people government employees and people with commercial licenses breaking the law; unless the accused can prove that other people were doing the texting.

  • Hilary Kitasei

    Enforcing bans on texting and telephoning in automobiles is one of the BEST ways to reduce use of private automobiles. As cars have become more and more like private offices, even congestion becomes ineffective as a tool to discourage driving. One of the best incentives for taking the cheap intra-city buses now is that they offer wi-fi. The city’s express buses should offer the same, and then run a huge ad campaign to publicize the difference (e.g., “You could be using your time to good advantage here, vs. you could be spending time in jail if you do it here…)

    Enforcement, of course, is the issue. Where I live in lower Manhattan, there are probably 6-8 uniformed guards from various agencies being employed to deal with traffic at one intersection of the West Side Highway. About a third of the drivers sitting at a red light in front of them seem to be using their phones. Yet none of them has the authority to TELL them (much less arrest them) to stop. Or so they tell me..

  • JSD

    It’s sad this is even necessary. With all the talk about cyclists being more responsible users of the road, you’d imagine less drivers would want to stare at a tiny screen, while thinking of what to say, while typing on a keypad, while operating a multi-ton steel machine at 65mph.

  • Buzz

    I think banning the use of cell phones while operating a motor vehicle…or bicycle…is a good idea, and like other motor vehicle laws, should be enforced as most other vehicle laws. If an officer sees you doing it or you fail to keep your vehicle under control as a result, you pay the hefty fine, including court costs, your insurance company will likely raise your rates, and you will be less likely to do it again. Same as seatbelt laws, helmet laws, driving without a license, dwi, etc. Banning cars or being monitored by Big Brother using a satellite or camera is a very Socialist way of thinking. I’ll take my freedom, thank you very much. Also, I have seen a number of bicyclists pull out in front of me, pass illegally, turn illegally, run stop signs and generally drive recklessly, including driving drunk. I would appreciate more fines being issued to these negligent drivers. In addition, I would like to see registration fees for cyclists on the road be more in line with that of what motorists have to pay. Cyclists are out there, wanting to use the roads…bunging up traffic just like the rest of us…no reason they shouldn’t have to contribute a few hundred a year for the policing and maintanance of roadways like I do. They should also have to pay for vehicle insurance to cover the costs of accidents they are involved in. Driving 20 mph in a 45 or 55 mph zone causes traffic flow problems and accidents.

  • This law is great, the only problem is that it only makes texting while driving a secondary offense; to get a ticket for texting, a driver has to first get pulled over for something else.

    Please join the outcry!