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Texting while driving gets push for federal ban by Ray LaHood

A girl is seen texting and driving in this undated file photo.

June 7, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
It was a landmark case in Massachusetts as an 18 year old was charged with a motor vehicle homicide that he committed while texting and driving.

It's believed to be the first such conviction -- and one that underscores the dangers of driving while talking on a phone or texting. It's also an issue that has long held the attention of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

"At this very moment, there are 660,000 drivers talking on their phone while behind the wheel on our nation's roadways," he said. He added that statistics show one out of every 10 fatal accident in the U.S. is the result of a distracted driver.

LaHood's concerns prompted him to unveil a new federal push Thursday to crack down on distracted driving, which includes $2.4 million in grants for pilot programs in California and Delaware.

He says automakers need to develop a set of guidelines that will help reduce distractions caused by new technologies. LaHood even floated the idea that Congress should enact a nationwide law against using phones while driving.

"I'd be for a national ban, yeah, but I don't have a bill to hand to congress, I'll leave it up to them," he said.

LaHood wouldn't say if he meant banning hands-free devices as well, but either way, people say they would support a law that gets drivers off their phones.

"I think it's definitely necessary because there are a lot of people who are texting and not paying attention, so I think they actually should do more," said Vince Walker of Sherman Oaks.

Others were not as idealistic about the plan.

"I think it's hard to enforce, but I think it's a great idea," said Erin Casement, also of Sherman Oaks.

The California trial program would test to see if increased law enforcement and media campaigns would put any kind of dent into distracted driving numbers. It is slated to take place in the Sacramento area and would start this fall.