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Distracted driving deaths fall in 2009

September 20, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
The number of people killed in crashes connected to driver distraction declined last year but the government said the problem remains an epidemic for motorists in the U.S.Many people feel as if they are multi-tasking when texting while driving. But texting while driving or holding the phone to your ear is an accident waiting to happen.

Los Angeles resident Janet Campos admits she has had luck on her side considering her BlackBerry is always in reach and in use while she is in the car.

"I am constantly looking at my phone," said Campos. "I am always checking for messages. It is a habit. I haven't hurt anyone yet. I guess I am pretty good at it, but I know that it is a distraction."

Campos is one example of why the federal government says that distracted driving remains an epidemic, even though new statistics show fatal crashes involving distracted driving are down 6 percent.

Nearly 5,500 people were killed last year and 448,000 were injured in the United States.

"Everybody thinks that they can use their cell phone and drive safely, but you can't," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Los Angeles resident Helena Ball, 16, says she is trying to be a responsible driver, but she watches adults, including her father, text and talk while driving.

"I have never texted while driving," said Ball. "But I have found adults that do that too."

"I have on occasion texted, but I do not do it often," said David Ball of Los Angeles.

Public service announcements and Oprah Winfrey's "No Phone Zone" pledge aimed to put a dent in the problem, along with tougher state laws.

California is one of eight states where drivers are barred from using hand-held cell phones. Legislation is pending in Congress to push all states to ban texting by drivers.

The Obama administration has prohibited federal employees from texting while driving on government business and banned commercial truck and bus drivers from texting behind the wheel.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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