An executive order issued by the White House in October to prohibit more than four million federal employees from texting behind the wheel while working or using government vehicles and communications devices is now officially in effect.

Executive Order 13513 – titled “Federal Leadership on Reducing Text Messaging While Driving” and signed by President Obama October 1, 2009 – went into effect January 1. It directs federal employees: not to engage in text messaging while driving government-owned vehicles; when using electronic equipment supplied by the government while driving; or while driving privately owned vehicles when they’re on official government business.

The order also encourages federal contractors and others doing business with the government to adopt and enforce their own policies banning texting while driving on the job.

Secrty. of Transportation Ray LaHood noted that “it will take everyone working together to put an end to needless crashes and deaths” resulting from texting and talking on the phone while driving.

LaHood added that National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) research shows that nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in crashes involving a distracted or inattentive driver, with more than half a million injured. And, on any given day in 2008 more than 800,000 vehicles were driven by someone using a hand-held cell phone.