TUESDAY, Jan. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Truck and bus drivers who travel interstate roadways are now banned from using a handheld device to send text messages, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
The ban, which is supported by the trucking and bus industry, goes into effect immediately, with violators subject to up to $2,750 fines, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said during a morning press conference.
"We said the federal government would do everything in its power to send a clear message that texting, talking and driving are potentially lethal activities with very serious consequences," LaHood said. "Today we are sending a strong message. We don't merely expect you to share the road responsibly with other travelers -- we will require you to do so."
More than 500,000 people were injured and nearly 6,000 people were killed last year in motor-vehicle accidents involving a driver who was distracted while using a cell phone or texting device, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The hardest part of banning texting and talking on cell phones is enforcement, LaHood admitted. However, he noted that laws requiring seat belts and the laws against drunken driving were also hard to enforce at the start, but raising awareness has helped to get more people to use seat belts and not drive drunk.
LaHood hinted that the cell phone industry might find ways that would alert police that a driver was texting or talking on a cell phone.
Research from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration found that drivers sending and receiving text messages take their eyes off the road for about 4.6 seconds out of every 6 seconds while texting, Anne Ferro, the agency's administrator, said during the press conference.
At that rate, a driver going 55 miles an hour would travel the length of a football field, including the end zones, without looking at the road, she said.
People who text while driving are 23 times more likely to get in an accident than non-distracted drivers, LaHood said. The agency is working on more regulation to reduce the use of cell phones and other electronic devices among interstate truck and bus drivers, Ferro added.
William P. Graves, president of the American Trucking Association (ATA), said during the press conference: "We realize that texting on a handheld phone or wireless device while driving substantially elevates the risk of being involved in an accident. ATA does support DOT's action to ban the use of handheld wireless devices by commercial drivers while driving to send or receive text messages."
In September, President Barack Obama signed an executive order prohibiting federal employees from using cell phones or sending text messages while driving government-owned vehicles or with government-owned equipment. The ban took effect Dec. 30, LaHood said.
For more on the dangers of distracted driving, visit FocusDriven.