Transportation tackles distracted-driving problem using videos

Agency unveils two new messages on its 'rampage' to end deadly practice that has been rising in age of mobile technology.

The Transportation Department unveiled two videos Thursday that aim to curb distracted driving, a growing problem that the department has been on a self-proclaimed "rampage" to discourage for nearly two years, its leader said.

In 2009, nearly 5,500 Americans died and 500,000 were injured in accidents involving a driver distracted by cell phone conversations, text messages or other nonessential activities. Those numbers, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a media briefing, are not statistics, but rather parents who lost children and children who lost parents. The new videos aim to increase public awareness and lower those statistics, he said.

One video is an addition to Transportation's "Faces of Distracted Driving,"series, which was launched in November 2010 to dramatize the often deadly consequences of texting or talking on a cell phone while driving. In the new video, Emily Reynolds, a 17-year-old from Omaha, Neb., speaks of losing her older sister, Cady, who was 16 at the time of the 2007 crash.

A second video is a public service announcement that includes hundreds of pictures of victims of distracted driving assembled by FocusDriven, a River Forest, Ill.-based nonprofit advocacy group for victims of crashes involving drivers using cell phones.

"In our new PSA, we want to remind people that each and every distracted driving fatality is someone's loved one, and that person's family is in tremendous pain," FocusDriven President Jennifer Smith told reporters. "Our new campaign will urge the public to put down the phone and focus on the drive. We cannot wait until others are killed or injured to take action."

"The statistics show that it's no longer if someone you know will be affected by districted driving, it's when," added Smith, who lost her mother to a distracted driver in 2008.

The PSA is part of FocusDriven's "5500 campaign," which launched Thursday and is named for the average number of people who die in distracted driving crashes annually. "In one year, we've made progress," Smith said. "More education is necessary to make the public aware that distracted driving kills."

LaHood said Transportation has been on a "rampage" to curb the practice and encouraged all drivers to put their cell phones in the glove box before putting the car in motion. He added the majority of Americans own a cell phone or texting device and everybody who owns one has used it while driving.

"Distracted driving is a deadly epidemic and when it comes to road safety, we will not take a backseat to anyone," LaHood said. "That's why distracted driving will continue to be a major part of DOT's robust safety agenda. . . . [With partners] we can put an end to this deadly behavior and save lives."

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