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Getting Clunkers and Distracted Drivers Off the Road

A U.S. government program to pay people who trade-in old vehicles proves hugely popular. And officials call a meeting on how to fight texting and other crash risks. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Economics Report.

This week in Washington, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced plans for a "distracted driving summit" in September.

Transportation and law enforcement officials, safety activists and others will discuss how to deal with drivers who do other things as they drive. Talking on the phone has long been an issue. But text-messaging while driving has gained more attention recently following a number of deadly crashes.

Right now, though, distracted driving is not the only thing Secretary LaHood has to think about.

For the first time in many months, large numbers of Americans have been buying new cars. And here is at least part of the reason why: Since late July the government has been paying for people to trade in older vehicles for newer ones with greater fuel economy. The program is named the Car Allowance Rebate System, but known as "cash for clunkers."

It was included as part of an unrelated defense bill passed in June. Congress provided one billion dollars for car dealers to pay for trade-ins. Qualified buyers can receive up to four thousand five hundred dollars toward a new vehicle. So far, most of the trade-ins have been trucks and the majority of new purchases have been cars.

Dealers are required to make the trade-ins unusable by destroying the engine, then recycle the old vehicles into scrap metal.

The billion dollars was supposed to last until November. But the program has been so popular, officials say most of the money is already gone. President Obama asked Congress for an additional two billion dollars which could last through Labor Day, September seventh.

Last week the House of Representatives agreed. And on Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced a deal between Democrats and Republicans to clear the way for final approval.

But "cash for clunkers" has its critics. Liberals say the fuel-efficiency requirements for the replacement vehicles are not strong enough for the environment. Conservatives object to the cost, and the idea of what they say is just another bailout for the car industry.

The Transportation Department reported Wednesday that almost half of all sales were from American manufacturers. However, foreign automakers had six of the ten top selling vehicles in the program. But even so, most of their vehicles were built in the United States.

And that's the VOA Special English Economics Report, written by Mario Ritter. Transcripts and podcasts are at I'm Steve Ember.