April Declared Distracted Driving Month

by Leslie Wollack

Image removed.The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has declared April national Distracted Driving Awareness Month, continuing Secretary Ray LaHood's push to enact laws banning texting and hand-held cell phone use while driving. 

In the past few weeks, West Virginia and Idaho became the 36th and 37th states to enact laws against texting while driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2010, more than 3,000 people were killed in distracted driving crashes. Many local communities are leading the effort and enacting their own legislation. NLC's Transportation and Infrastructure Services Policy and Advocacy Committee will also examine the issue this year.

Soon after becoming secretary, LaHood became a forceful advocate for the campaign to stop dangerous texting and cell phone use behind the wheel. LaHood has hosted two national distracted driving summits, banned texting and cell phone use for commercial drivers, encouraged states to adopt tough laws and launched numerous campaigns to raise public awareness about the issues. 

LaHood has made numerous appearances at NLC meetings in Washington, D.C., to carry the message as well. DOTs website, Distraction.gov, provides facts to back up local campaigns, such as:

• "Using a cell phone while driving delays your reaction time as much as having a blood alcohol concentration of .08, the legal limit for drunk driving."

• "Drivers who use a hand-held device are 4 times more likely to get into a crash serious enough to cause injury." 

• "Texting drivers are 23 times more likely to get involved in a crash."

The secretary has also helped fight back against criticisms of distracted driving laws and concerns about the difficulty of enforcement. DOT has piloted enforcement programs in several cities known as "Phone in One Hand, Ticket in the Other." 

Pilot studies in Hartford, Conn., and Syracuse, N.Y., showed that combining increased law enforcement efforts with public service announcements can succeed in getting distracted drivers to put down their cell phones and focus on the road. 

According to the National High-way Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), during two-week long periods of stepped up enforcement, police in Hartford wrote approximately 4,956 tickets and Syracuse police issued 4,446 tickets for violations involving drivers talking or texting on cell phones. Before and after each enforcement wave, NHTSA conducted observations of driver cell phone use and collected public awareness surveys at driver licensing offices in each test and comparison site. Based on these observations and surveys, hand-held cell phone use dropped 56 percent in Hartford and 38 percent in Syracuse. Texting while driving declined 68 percent in Hartford and 42 percent in Syracuse.

"Good laws are important, but we know from past efforts to curb drunk driving and promote seatbelts that enforcement is the key," said Secretary LaHood. "Our pilot programs in Syracuse and Hartford are critical pieces of our overall effort to get people to realize distracted driving is dangerous and wrong. I want to commend the police in Hartford and Syracuse for their excellent work keeping our roads safe and serving as a model for other communities."

Details: Go to DOT's website, distraction.gov, and the Governors Highway Safety Association,ghsa.org, for laws in your state and how you can help.