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October 4, 2009

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Obama outlaws texting behind the wheel

Employees of the US government have been prohibited by President Obama from using mobile phones to send text messages while driving on official business.

The president issued the Executive Order in the wake of a number of deadly crashes involving drivers distracted by text messaging while behind the wheel. The federal government’s 3 million civilian employees, including contractors and sub-contractors, will not be allowed to engage in text messaging while driving government-owned, leased or rented vehicles, or while using privately-owned vehicles on government business.

All federal agencies have been directed to take appropriate action within the scope of their existing programmes to implement the order. This could include improving education on and awareness of the dangers of texting while driving, and encouraging contractors and sub-contractors to adopt and enforce policies to ban text-messaging while driving.

According to the White House, the move will help save lives, reduce injuries, and set an example for State and local governments, private employers, and individual drivers.

In the UK, texting while driving has been outlawed since 2003 under the Road Safety Act. In 2007, tougher penalties were introduced in the form of three penalty points on the driver’s licence plus a £60 fine. In 2008, reading or composing text messages over a period of time was categorised as a “gross avoidable distraction” that could result in an offence of causing death by dangerous driving, for which the maximum prison sentence is 14 years.

Commenting on the US move, Ellen Booth, campaigns officer for road-safety charity Brake, said: “We welcome the news that the White House has banned text messaging while driving for employees on official business. However, research clearly shows that all mobile phone use while driving is distracting. Using a hands-free phone while driving slows reaction times as much as driving at the drink-drive limit. Brake urges the White House and other organisations to implement best practice and ban all mobile phone use while driving.”

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