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.