Nearly 6,000 deaths and 500,000 injuries can be attributed to secondary tasks while driving in 2008, said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s database.

Policy makers are attempting to lower those numbers. Last Wednesday U.S Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called to order a summit comprised of transportation officials, academics, safety advocates and law enforcement representatives to assemble in Washington, D.C, and address the dangers of distractions behind the wheel.

“Driving distraction is our oldest new problem,” said Vice President of Programs for the Intelligent Transportation Society of America Rod Mackenzie. “This fast paced world that we live in is raising peoples expectations for multitasking and always being connected.”

Mackenzie worries that such a mentality is raising the acceptance cell phone use while driving.

At this time Alabama has no laws to police the use of handhelds while driving, said Alabama Highway Patrol Cpl. Steve Norred.

“It is a big issue, we work a lot of wrecks where people are distracted and just run off the roadway,” Norred said. ” Usually they will tell you they were on the phone or texting.”

People sometimes are so distracted they are unaware an officer has his lights on behind them, because they are texting, Norred said.

Policy change is not the only thing that will make driving safer, Mackenzie focuses on technology that keeps us sate and connected.

“Technology is part of the hectic lifestyle in which we live today,” Mackenzie said.

The latest in driving safety tech includes cars that interpret and read text messages and can respond by voice command, vehicles that brake automatically when sensors detect a possible collision and fatigue warning systems that track driver head movements.

The next step in vehicle safety is the implementation of car-to-car communication systems, Mackenzie said.

“These offer the potential for data transfer between cars so they can share information,” Mackenzie said.

Alabama is one of only six states which have yet to pass any regulation on cell phone use while driving, according to the Governors highway Safety Association. This includes bans for school bus drivers.

“Driving while distracted should just feel wrong , just as driving without a seat belt or driving while intoxicated seems wrong to most Americans,” LaHood said.

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This article was originally published in The Auburn Plainsman on 10/5/2009.

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