With distracted driving responsible for about 10% of all fatal crashes, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and non-profit StopDistraction.org have joined forces to motivate states to implement a comprehensive strategy to eliminate the deadly behavior.
Specifically, the initiative calls on states to use high visibility enforcement of primary texting and hand-held cellphone bans. In addition, it recommends states create considerable public outreach campaigns that explain how distraction takes a driver’s focus off the road and puts others — especially pedestrians and cyclists — at risk.
The equitable enforcement of strong laws is a key piece of the strategy because it works, notes GHSA.
For example, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted projects in California and Delaware. The findings showed that increased police enforcement of distracted driving laws coupled with increased consumer awareness of distracted driving using radio ads, news stories and other media helped to change negative driver behavior.
In fact, observed driver use of handheld cell phones dropped by 33% following the implementation of the dual efforts.
Now, GHSA and StopDistraction.org — a grassroots organization founded by a safety advocate who lost her mother when a distracted driver using a cellphone ran a red light — are using their platform to motivate states to better enforce the laws they have put into effect.
Presently, 24 states and the District of Columbia (D.C.) ban handheld cell phone use, while 48 states and D.C. ban texting while driving. No state completely bans cell phone use for all drivers, but 37 states and D.C. prohibit all cellphone use by novice drivers, and 23 states and D.C. ban it for school bus drivers.
In two states, Virginia and Massachusetts, improvements to distracted driving laws also included additional protections to promote equitable enforcement, such as data collection and reporting requirements on traffic stops.
Distracted driving claimed the lives of 3,142 people in the U.S. in 2019 – up 10% from 2018, according to NHTSA.