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Laws against driving and cellphone use aren't working, study finds

A Transportation Dept. survey finds that despite legal bans in 39 states, 660,000 drivers nationwide are preoccupied with their cellphones at any time.

April 05, 2013|By Ronald D. White, Los Angeles Times

It seems like an epidemic: Drivers talking and texting. Now federal regulators have put a number to the dangerous habit.

At any given time, about 660,000 drivers are texting, tweeting, talking or otherwise preoccupied with their cellphones while speeding along the freeways or crawling through downtowns and suburban neighborhoods.

That's more people than live in Baltimore.

"There is no way to text and drive safely," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, whose agency released the survey results Friday. "Powering down your cellphone when you're behind the wheel can save lives — maybe even your own."

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect about the poll, which surveyed 6,000 people age 16 and older, was that laws meant to curb cellphone use don't seem to be working. California and 38 other states have tried to prohibit the practice, but there is little evidence that distracted driving has decreased since 2010, according to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey from that year.

That indicates that getting drivers' attention about the dangers of distraction may be more difficult than, for instance, getting them to wear seatbelts, said Jeff Larson, president of Safe Roads Alliance in Boston.

"Police are finding the laws on distracted driving difficult to enforce," he said.

ron.white@latimes.com

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