Federal employees will not be allowed to text message while driving when using government-provided cars and phones or when they are on official business, according to an executive order signed by President Obama.
“Driving while distracted should just feel wrong — just as driving without a seat belt or driving while intoxicated,” said Ray LaHood, the U.S. Transportation Secretary. “We’re not going to break everyone of their bad habits — but we are going to raise awareness and sharpen the consequences.”
The announcement was made at the end of a two-day conference in Washington that included 300 law enforcement officials, legislators, telecommunications and automobile industry representatives.
“This meeting is probably the most important meeting in the history of the Department of Transportation,” said LaHood. “This is a big deal.”
The order took effect immediately and involves 4.5 million federal employees, including military personnel.
According to the department, 5,870 people were killed and 515,000 were injured last year in crashes connected to driver distraction, often involving mobile devices.
Driver distraction was involved in 16 percent of all fatal crashes in 2008 and was more prevalent among young drivers.
In July, a group of senators pushed a bill requiring states to ban text messaging by drivers or lose 25 percent of their annual federal highway funding.
Big automakers said last week that they would support a ban on text messaging while driving.
Separately, LaHood said the Transportation Department will also seek to ban text messaging by rail operators, interstate truck and bus operators and school bus drivers, but added that those restrictions will take longer to put in place.