KLOBUCHAR: “We need to keep working together until Americans are keeping their eyes off the phones and on the road. No text message is worth dying for.”
WASHINGTON - At a National Highway Transit Safety Administration (NHTSA) virtual press conference, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) emphasized the need to combat distracted driving, highlighting her efforts to crack down on the dangerous practice. Klobuchar was joined by Dr. Steven Califf, Deputy Administrator of NHTSA, as well as distracted driving victim advocates and a highway patrol representative.
“Every day, eight people die and more than a 1000 are injured in crashes involving distracted drivers…No family should have to know this pain. It's time to act,” Klobuchar said. “We need to keep working together until Americans are keeping their eyes off the phones and on the road. No text message is worth dying for.”
Klobuchar specifically discussed the importance of her SAFE TO DRIVE Act, which was signed into law last November as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. This bipartisan, bicameral legislation, introduced alongside Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), helps ensure more states are able to access critical funding to enforce distracted driving laws and educate drivers to help keep our roads safe. She also spoke about her legislation in the FAST Act, signed into law in 2015, that provided states with critical funding for highway safety to enforce distracted driving laws and educate drivers.
Well thank you so much, Dr. Cliff, for the kind introduction. I’m really excited to be here. I have kind of a weird background because I’m actually right outside of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, where we’re having the final debate on the Supreme Court Justice, in voting. So if a senator kind of randomly walks behind me in this anteroom, you will know why. But I just didn’t want to miss this.
I wanted to recognize our speakers today: Robyn Robertson, thank you for your leadership, as well as Jennifer Weaver, thank you, Colonel Fanbro, Ohio State Highway Patrol. I think we know that law enforcement are on the front edge of this every single day, how many law enforcement officers we actually lose when they’re helping people on the road and the like, to distracted drivers.
We’re here because we know how heartbreaking this is and how quickly a life can be taken away. Five seconds. That’s how long your eyes are off the road when you text. That’s how long it takes to drive across a football field at 55 miles per hour and that's how long it took Jane and Dan Phillips from my home state of Minnesota to lose their daughter Kelly. Kelly’s friend took her eyes off the road to send a text message. Maybe she changed a song. Whatever she did, we don't know. In that short amount of time we know she was on her phone, the car went off the road at a curb and rolled, and Kelly and her friend died.
I also think of Shreya Dixit who was killed when the driver of the car she was riding in reached to grab something in the back seat and crashed. I got to know Shreya’s family and worked with her dad now for years. He set up a foundation to take this on. There's so many people like that all over the country that are trying in their own way, so many viewers listening today to make a difference. I think of 19 year old Phillip LaVallee. He was a running star at Monticello High School in Minnesota. He went on to compete for South Dakota State. In the summer of 2014, he went for an afternoon run and never got home. A driver with an incoming phone call swerved across two lanes and killed him on a county road.
These are tragic stories, but we know how common they are, as Steven just pointed out. Every day, eight people die and more than a 1000 are injured in crashes involving distracted drivers. This impacts passengers and pedestrians and has impacts on everyone. No family should have to know this pain. It's time to act. I think you know, you’ll hear from all of us the statistics. These statistics are real people. They’re someone's kid, they're someone's dad, they're someone’s brother or sister. So, what do we need to do? Well, I have been leading efforts to turn the tide on the issue for a long time. We've done some great things. I noticed in my state there’s efforts going on right now with the law enforcement blitz on distracted driving. That obviously helps because it calls people's attention when they get tickets and the like.
But the other thing that we have to do is show that kind of support in Washington, right? It’s so important to have NHTSA involved. My legislation with Congressman Krishnamoorthi to create safer roads, it's called the SAFE TO DRIVE Act, was actually included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that President Biden signed last year. Our bill incentivizes states to implement laws banning all non navigational mobile device viewing, such as streaming videos. Yes, believe it or not, people are doing that. Video calls. Yep, they’re doing that. On cell phones while driving. It was endorsed by the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, as well as the National Safety Council and many others. It builds off the work we did way back in 2015 on the FAST Act which made funds available when states did certain things. One of the things we found out that there were a lot of states shut out from critical funding, so we made changes to make that easier.
I think we all know for so many of us, this is personal. I got involved in all this because my dad was an alcoholic and he had three DWIs and I was in the car with him once when he swerved off the road. When you have something like that happen to you when you are a kid, you never forget it. And I saw how close we were to either getting killed ourselves or killing someone else. And so many of you are on this call for similar personal experiences. What I also know is that redemption is possible. That there is a better way. He got treatment. We lost him last year at age 93. But he was sober the last decades of his life because he got that treatment.
I believe when it comes to distracted driving, it’s a little different. This is about really making people understand through education, and yeah, some sticks with tickets and the like. What it means if we don't follow the law. And to give you hope that this can work: in 1970 fewer than 15 percent of Americans used seat belts. Today, more than 90 percent do. And it wasn’t so long ago that drunk driving, including what happened with my dad back in the 70’s, was often viewed just as a traffic violation. Today, we recognize the severity of the effects. It's a testament to all of you that we’re having this discussion, that we’re moving forward, that we have leaders in Washington that are taking this seriously. We need to keep working together until Americans keep their eyes off the phones and on the road. No text message is worth dying for. Thank you Dr. Cliff, you can take it from here.