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WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 15, 2009) -- Texting took a back seat to safety this month with an executive order prohibiting text messaging while driving on military installations or driving anywhere in government vehicles.

Executive Order 13513, signed by President Obama Oct. 1, specifically bans federal employees from texting while driving government owned, leased or rented vehicles. It prohibits texting while driving privately-owned vehicles on official government business. The policy also extends to federal contractors.

"Despite the shocking accident reports and warnings, people still text while driving, said Mario Owens, safety officer for the Army's Installation Management Command.

A number of studies show that text messaging while driving is the "modern day top driving distraction" that causes auto accidents, he said.

"It's important to remember that the next time you text message while driving that such texting has been found to be more dangerous than driving while intoxicated," Owens said.

Driver distraction, which includes the use of electronic devices while driving, accounted for 16 percent of fatal crashes in 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

A recent study conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute reports that of all cell phone-related tasks, including talking, dialing, or reaching for the phone, texting while driving is the most dangerous. The study also states that for every 6 seconds of drive time, a driver sending or receiving a text message spends 4.6 of those seconds with their eyes off the road.

In 2007, Washington became the first state to ban texting while driving. Seventeen other states and the District of Columbia have followed suit.

By way of the ban, the federal government hopes to set an example for state and local governments, private employers, and individual drivers, and to mitigate the rates of unnecessary and sometimes deadly accidents caused by being distracted by electronic devices while driving.

Before reaching for hand-held devices to engage in an other-than-traditional-text-messaging- session, officials said it's important to know that the executive order very broadly defines texting as "reading from or entering data into any handheld or other electronic devices," to include, "e-mailing, instant messaging, obtaining navigational information, or engaging in any other form of electronic data retrieval of electronic data communication."