Local News

New organization combats distracted driving

Posted January 12, 2010 7:39 a.m. EST
Updated January 12, 2010 7:05 p.m. EST

Texting

— The U.S. Department of Transportation and safety advocates joined Tuesday to announce the creation of FocusDriven, an organization dedicated to raising public awareness about the dangers of driving while talking on cell phones or texting on handheld computers.

The organization will be modeled after Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, which has successfully lobbied for tougher drunk driving laws. Safety advocates are pushing states to do the same thing for texting and cell phone use.

Officials in North Carolina, which is among 19 states and the District of Columbia that have banned texting while driving, say they hope the group will help make a difference in the state.

"It could definitely help. It's the first step in addressing the problem, especially from a motorist behavior standpoint," said Cliff Braam, a traffic safety specialist with the state Department of Transportation's Division of Mobility and Safety.

Data collected from the state DOT from 2004 to 2008 shows an average of 57,984 people a year are involved in crashes in North Carolina where distracted driving is a factor. More than 13,000 are injured and 119 die.

Last month, the North Carolina Highway Patrol said, Erin Lindsay-Culkins, 26, of Efland, was using her cell phone in Orange County as she drove through a railroad crossing and was hit by a train. She and her 5-year-old son died.

"We really would like for the motorists to take ownership in highway safety," Braam said.

FocusDriven is being established with the support of the U.S. transportation department and the independent, nonprofit National Safety Council. It will be led by Jennifer Smith, whose mother was killed in 2008 by a driver who was talking on his cell phone.

The department recently launched a federal Web site with information on distracted driving and is distributing a public service announcement.