One II One
A NEW SERIES: ONE II ONE WITH SOME OF THE MOST INTERESTING PEOPLE IN THE BUSINESS
Talks to Editor In Chief John Latta
America’s 16th Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood was a congressional staffer for 17 years and a member of the House for 14 as an Illinois Republican. He served on the House Transportation and Infrastructure and Appropriations committees. He was Chief of Staff to U.S. Congressman Robert Michel and District Administrative Assistant to Congressman Thomas Railsback. He also served in the Illinois State Legislature. LaHood is a former junior high school teacher, director of the Rock Island County Youth Services Bureau and chief planner for the Bi-States Metropolitan Planning Commission in Illinois.
I know one of things you are most passionate about is distracted driving?
We were at a meeting in Illinois yesterday where there were over 300 people focusing on distracted driving. Two years ago, that wouldn’t have happened. Every American owns some sort of texting device or a phone… people think they can use them wherever they are at, anytime any place, including in churches, funerals, weddings and you know people have just developed behind the wheel of a car very dangerous behavior… we’ve called it an epidemic … We’ve had two or three insurance companies, Allstate, Nationwide and now State Farm, really stepping up providing money and also providing the kind of leadership to begin to persuade their policy holders that they shouldn’t be texting and driving and using cell phones and driving. So, you know, we’re coming along, but we have a long way to go.
Why such a personal interest?
I have a bully pulpit when it comes to safety… and I use it …We have also given some grants, including two grants, Hartford, Connecticut, and Syracuse, New York of $200,000 each matched by $100,000 from the states … they paid police to sit on street corners and write tickets to people who were on their cell phones or texting and driving. And they’ve written thousands of tickets and distracted driving has come down. We believe good laws and good enforcement, and people taking personal responsibility for putting their cell phones and texting devices in the glove compartment, will save a lot of lives.
Is it also a case that if you don’t do this now, it will be much harder to change in future?
That’s absolutely right. I’ve met with every CEO of every car company. The problem is dangerous habits that people have, but where they do it is also a problem. They do it in automobiles and car manufacturers are putting more distractions in cars than less…We are doing a study right now on the cognitive effects of Bluetooth, hands-free, GPS, all of these things that I believe are cognitive distractions. How much? We’re trying to find out.
If people go to www.distraction.gov they can see some of the heartbreaking stories … We can talk about statistics all day and all night but when you see people talking about it, parents talking about losing their children, children talking about losing their parents… it’s heartbreaking. Heartbreaking. And you know it could be prevented! It’s pretty simple! We appreciate these families stepping forward. It’s not easy to tell their stories.
Reauthorization. When and how much?
We’re working with Congress. There were members of Congress that introduced bills last time and we hope that they will again this time. …But the direct answer is that I hope Congress will pass a bill this year.
Transportation has always been considered a bipartisan issue here in Washington. Is it still bipartisan?
Absolutely. The one thing around this town that is bipartisan is transportation. It always has been and always will be, mainly I think because people look at transportation as an opportunity to put friends and neighbors to work. A transportation bill is a jobs bill… good paying jobs. Even people who came here sort of under the banner of the Tea Party to make their reductions… what I have told people is you can pay some money against the debt and deficit, but you can also have transportation priorities. You can do both….
The stumbling block then is…?
Finding the money.
Is it doable?
Absolutely. We have to… we have to get our infrastructure in a state of good repair. It’s very doable. It’s one way can really jump-start our economy.
Our infrastructure: is there some point where we begin losing the race? Are states losing ground on infrastructure?
We have reached a very critical time in our country in terms of state of good repair for our infrastructure. We have reached a very critical moment in many states where they have come to the point where they really need to address infrastructure needs otherwise they will be behind the curve in terms of their ability to keep state of good repair for roads and bridges. This is the moment. It really is. This year is the moment to pass a bill.
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