WASHINGTON, Oct 1 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday signed an order banning federal workers from text messaging while driving on official business or using government vehicles.
"With nearly three million civilian employees, the federal government can and should demonstrate leadership in reducing the dangers of text messaging while driving," said the executive order.
It said recent deadly crashes involving drivers distracted by text messaging highlight a growing danger on the road.
"Text messaging causes drivers to take their eyes off the road and at least one hand off the steering wheel, endangering both themselves and others," it said.
The order bans federal employees from text messaging -- which it defines to include e-mailing, instant messaging or obtaining navigational information -- when driving government-owned vehicles or private vehicles while on government business.
On Wednesday, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called distracted driving a serious epidemic. Figures released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed more than 5,800 distracted driving deaths and 515,000 injuries last year.
Under the new executive order, all agencies in the executive branch must set up new rules and reevaluate existing programs to prohibit text messaging while driving.
They should also encourage federal employees to voluntarily comply with the policy even when they are off duty.
Some federal employees who need devices for law enforcement or national security responsibilities might be exempt from the new requirements, the order said. (Reporting by Deborah Charles; editing by Todd Eastham)