[JURIST] US President Barack Obama on Thursday signed an executive order [text] making it illegal for federal employees or government contractors to use text messaging while driving. The order encompasses employee use of government owned or leased cars, as well as privately owned cars used for government business. The order also bans use of government-issued devices for texting while operating any motor vehicle. The order includes restrictions on the use of devices to send or read text messages, emails, or to check navigation data while on an active roadway, even if the user is stopped in traffic or at a traffic light. Currently, 18 states and the District of Columbia have bans [GHSA report] on using handheld devices to send or read messages while driving. Individual government agencies have 90 days to implement policy changes and must report to the Secretary of Transportation [official website].
The president signed this executive order one day after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [official website] released the results of a study [text, PDF] that reported 5,800 deaths and nearly 600,000 injuries in traffic accidents in 2008 where driver distraction was indicated on the police report. News of the order was generally met with approval, although Dave McCurdy, CEO of the Auto Alliance [advocacy website], an automobile industry advocacy group, cautioned [Huffington Post op-ed] that increasing restrictions on technology use in automobiles may cross a threshold and hinder more than help. McCurdy urged continued research into wireless automobile technology, saying, "We must address distracted driving, but we must do it without undercutting developing technologies that will help in making driving even safer."