'No Phone Zone Day' at the Newseum
WASHINGTON — A crowd of students, safety advocates, city and government officials and members of the media gathered in the Newseum's Great Hall of News April 30 to observe "No Phone Zone Day," talk-show host Oprah Winfrey's national safety program aimed at stopping distracted driving.
The "Live from the Newseum" segment was shown on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," where Winfrey appeared by remote from Harpo Studios in Chicago. Winfrey mobilized five cities around the country — Washington, Atlanta, Boston, Detroit and Los Angeles — to take action at "No Phone Zone Day" viewing events.
Gayle King, host of "The Gayle King Show" on Sirius XM's Oprah Radio, taped her show live from the Newseum as part of the campaign. Among her guests were transportation secretary Ray LaHood; Cathy Lanier, Washington's chief of police; Jennifer Smith, founding director of FocusDriven; and Leon Harris, news anchor at Washington's WJLA ABC7.
Harris said he would sign the "No Phone Zone" pledge live on television.
"We have to make [texting and driving] not cool," he told a supportive crowd.
King, who is also editor-at-large for O, The Oprah Magazine, has taken the pledge.
"This is one thing in life that is 100 percent preventable," she said.
LaHood, who said 6,000 people died nationwide in 2007 as a result of texting and driving, said the campaign to stop distracted driving is just as difficult as the campaign to get drivers to buckle their seat belts. He said successful seat belt campaigns — including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's "Click It or Ticket" program — have resulted in 85 percent of drivers buckling up.
"We need to change people's behavior," he stressed. "Buckle up, and put your phone and Blackberry in the glove compartment."
Cathy Lanier, Washington, D.C.'s chief of police, said 15 people a day lose their lives across the country to distracted driving. Washington passed a law in 2004 requiring a hand-free device while driving, but Lanier said D.C. police officers write approximately 11,000 tickets a year for distracted driving. Lanier said young drivers were of particular concern.
Abigail Ojemann, 14, and Steven Armanetti, 14, were part of a group of middle-school students visiting the Newseum for the first time from Concord, Mass. Neither student is old enough to drive, but they said they understood the problem of distracted driving and supported Winfrey's campaign.
"You can always just wait until you get out of the car," Ojemann said.
"I don't understand how you can text and drive at the same time," said Armanetti.
Smith, who started FocusDriven after her mother was killed in 2008 by a driver talking on a cell phone, summed up the importance of Winfrey's campaign.
"No call, no e-mail and no text are worth a life," she said.