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Winter 2010 | Vol. 12 | No. 3
2009 Was Year of the Distracted Driving Problem; Will 2010 Be Year of the Solution?
For much of 2009, the highway safety community and the national media were focused on distracted driving and, in particular, cell phone use and texting while driving. A variety of reports and studies brought nationwide awareness to the problem.
What does 2010 hold? According to GHSA Chairman Vernon F. Betkey, Jr., the new year likely will bring the beginning of a solution to this problem. Betkey says the answer lies in a combination of educational, policy, enforcement and technological approaches.
Educating people about the risks of driving while distracted by a cell phone is a key part of the solution. According to Betkey, “We need to develop a traffic safety culture that does not condone driving while distracted much like we have done with drunk driving.”
To further this goal, a variety of new efforts are underway. The National Safety Council has launched a new victim’s organization called FocusDriven which will put a human face on the toll of distraction. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), under the active and visible leadership of Secretary Ray LaHood, has initiated several new educational efforts, including public service announcements that were aired through the 2009 holiday season. DOT has also launched www.distraction.gov, a portal housing a variety of resources on this topic.
While education plays a role, it alone cannot solve the problem. As highway safety practitioners have learned with seat belts and drunk driving, education must be accompanied by strong laws and strong enforcement of those laws to have maximum impact. Currently, 19 states and D.C. have all-driver texting bans. According to Betkey, “Twelve states passed these laws in 2009 and we expect many more states to follow in 2010.” Additionally, Congress is considering legislation that would encourage states to pass texting/handheld bans either through incentives or sanctions.
Enforcement of existing texting and cell phone bans has been a challenge. To address this, DOT is funding two enforcement demonstration projects with support from the State Highway Safety Offices in New York and Connecticut. These efforts are being conducted this spring in Syracuse and Hartford and will employ the highly successful Click It or Ticket model of coupling aggressive enforcement with paid media alerting the public of the crackdown.
GHSA continues to urge employers to implement bans on texting and cell phone use while driving on company time or in a company vehicle or while using a company-owned wireless device. In October, President Obama issued an Executive Order banning federal employees from texting and driving while working or when using a government vehicle or government-owned wireless device. NTSB Chairman Debbie Hersman has banned all of her agency’s employees from any cell phone use while driving during work hours.
Technology will also be a factor in combating the distracted driving epidemic. Betkey notes, “Technology is part of the problem but it can also be part of the solution.” For example, new products such as ZoomSafer and DriveAssist can block non-emergency cell phone use while the vehicle is in motion.
Betkey adds, “As a parent, a tool that would prevent a teen driver from texting or talking on a phone while driving is very appealing. These types of voluntary systems should be supported and will hopefully be encouraged by insurance companies and wireless providers.” GHSA’s 2010 Annual Meeting will focus on the impact of technology on highway safety (see Kansas City Annual Meeting to Focus on Technology for more info).
Together, education, enforcement, and technology have the potential to confront the distracted driving issue head on. By getting the word out about the dangers of distracted driving, enacting (and enforcing) text messaging and cell phone bans, and embracing new technological innovations, states are poised to be an integral part of the distracted driving solution—saving lives and making America’s roadways safer for all.