Group gathers to deal with 'epidemic' of distracted drivers - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Group gathers to deal with 'epidemic' of distracted drivers

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WASHINGTON. - If you've ever talked on your cell phone while driving, you need to read this.

Even hands-free conversations can put you and those around you at risk and Wednesday hundreds of experts are gathering in Washington to talk about distracted driving and what should be done.

In Washington, DC Tuesday teens were put to the test behind the wheel to see how well they could deal with distractions.

This time it was a simulation put on by Ford and the Governors Highway Safety Association but the lesson was very real.

"It makes you aware of what's going on. Driving is something serious, it's not like an everyday thing and a joke. It's life or death," said teen driver Jennifer Young.

Linda Mulkey knows that first hand.

Her 17-year-old daughter, Lauren was killed in Salt Lake City by another teen looking up an address on his cell phone.

"I'll never have anybody call me mom again," said Mulkey.

It's stories like hers that are likely to be the focus as experts and witnesses gather Wednesday in Washington for a summit on what the Transportation Secretary is now calling an epidemic.

"There is no way to be safe while you're texting. None. Its too big a distraction," said Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.

It's not just texting, experts say even hands-free conversations can put drivers at risk by taking their attention off the road.

Distracted driving is now thought to be responsible for 25 percent of all traffic accidents and more than half of those involving teenagers.

Interest in the summit was so great it was expanded to two days where panels will discuss the possibility of federal laws as well as the growing pool of statistics on just how many of drive while using our cell phones.

"It's not worth risking somebody's life, nothing's that important," said Mulkey.

Researchers have found drivers who use their cell phones can double the crash risk of driving with a .08 blood alcohol level - the legal limit for drunk driving.

If you drive while texting your risk jumps 23 times.
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