The chorus against the use of mobile communications devices while driving is growing louder, with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood among the most prominent voices.

Last month, LaHood announced federal guidance to expressly prohibit text messaging by drivers of commercial vehicles such as large trucks and buses. Truck and bus drivers running afoul of the new regulations would be subject to civil or criminal penalties of up to $2,750. “We want the drivers of big rigs and buses and those who share the roads with them to be safe,” he said in a statement. “This is an important safety step and we will be taking more to eliminate the threat of distracted driving.”

Research by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration shows that drivers who send and receive text messages take their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds out of every 6 seconds while texting.

Efforts to ban the practice are also advancing at the state level. The American Insurance Association is backing a measure currently under consideration in Maryland. The bill, HB 192, would prohibit a person from using a text-messaging device to read a text message while driving. 

“AIA supports federal and state efforts to ban texting while driving,” Tammy Velasquez, AIA VP and director of state affairs. “Drivers should not be multi-tasking while driving.  Drivers should focus their attention on the road. As accidents lead to higher auto insurance rates, it pays to keep both eyes on the road at all times.”

The increased visibility of the distracted driving problem may already be paying dividends. San Diego-based SmartDrive Systems said its Q4 2009 SmartDrive Distracted Driving Index fell to 15.8%, a 12% decline from the Q3 level of 17.9%. The index is a quarterly benchmark of the commercial fleet driving distraction rate.

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