Look around you the next time you're on the road. Chances are, you'll see someone still holding a smart phone to their ear, someone else with the phone on the steering wheel as they text, another peering down at something in their lap rather than looking at the road in front of them.
A new survey released Friday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has determined that there is an army-sized group of 660,000 drivers out on the roads at any given moment of the day, texting, tweeting or otherwise partially preoccupied by something other than driving.
To add a little perspective to it, that's greater than the entire population of Baltimore.
“Distracted driving is a serious and deadly epidemic on America’s roadways,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, whose agency released the survey results near the start of National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.
"There is no way to text and drive safely," LaHood said. "Powering down your cellphone when you’re behind the wheel can save lives – maybe even your own.”
But perhaps the most disturbing thing about the poll of 6,000 people aged 16 and older was that there was no statistically significant difference in the number of people who were assumed to be driving distracted in 2010, NHTSA said.
This is despite 39 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands passing texting bans for all drivers. And 10 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using handheld cellphones while driving.
To some interested observers, like Jeff Larson, president of the Boston-based Safe Road Alliance, that's a sign that reducing distracted driving might be much more difficult than the campaigns that got people to wear seat belts and the one that stopped many from drinking and driving.
Larson said too few states have banned everything except hands-free phoning and texting.
"Police are finding the laws on distracted driving difficult to enforce," Larson said. More states passing laws that allow only hands-free phoning or texting, Larson said, "would let the police know that if drivers are holding a phone in their hand and manipulating it they are breaking the law."
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