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GHSA Report: States Doing More to Prevent Distracted Driving

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A new report from the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA) finds that since 2010, more states are enacting and enforcing laws to prevent distracted driving, among other findings, according to a press release. The report, “2013 Distracted Driving: Survey of the States,” which lists all the states and their laws, says that while all states are conducting activities to address distracted driving, 39 states and D.C. say it is a priority issue, which is a 43% increase from 2010’s 28 states.

The report says that 11 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving, and, beginning in October, all laws will be “primary enforcement,” meaning that a law officer can cite a driver for using a hand-held cell phone without any other traffic offense taking place. No states ban all cell phone use for all drivers, but 37 states and D.C. ban all cell phone use by novice drivers, and 19 states and D.C. prohibit it for school bus drivers.

As for text messaging, Washington was the first state to ban it by drivers, in 2007. At present, 41 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Island ban text messaging for all drivers, and all but four have primary enforcement. In addition, six other states prohibit text messaging by novice drivers, and three states have laws banning school bus drivers from texting while driving.

Almost all states include at least one category for distracted driving on police accident reports. GHSA writes: “The Model Minimum Uniform Crash Criteria (MMUCC) guideline provides best practices on distraction data collection.”

Colorado bans all cell phones for novice drivers under 18, and bans texting for all drivers, including school bus drivers and novice drivers, the report shows. Colorado, however, does not have a hand-held ban or a ban for cell phone use by school bus drivers, according to the GHSA chart.

Although many towns and cities have passed their own distracted driving bans, some states, such as Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Oklahoma, prohibit localities from enacting such laws. The press release goes on to say:

States are stepping up enforcement. Law enforcement officers in almost every state are actively enforcing distracted driving laws, a significant change since 2010. From routine traffic patrols that include distracted driving enforcement as standard protocol, to targeted efforts focused on specific events such as Distracted Driving Awareness Month, law enforcement is cracking down on violators.  At the same time, states note that enforcement officers are challenged by age-specific (e.g., bans for teen drivers only) and secondary distracted driving laws, and the complexities involved in discerning whether a motorist is actually engaged in an illegal behavior (e.g., determining if a driver is texting or dialing a phone, as the latter is permitted in most states).

States are going social to educate motorists. Forty-seven states and DC are taking steps to educate the public about the threat of distracted driving, a 26 percent increase from 37 states in 2010.  While most have developed campaign messaging unique to their states, the vast majority recognize the effectiveness of technology-based communication and are using social media including Twitter, YouTube and Facebook to get the message out about distracted driving. State use of these outreach channels has jumped 125 percent in the past three years.

GHSA Deputy Executive Director Jonathan Adkins said the task of keeping all drivers and passengers safe is a challenge that “becomes even more daunting with the increase in use of distracting technology.” The good news is that states are aware of that and are working hard in several areas to address it, he said. But states face major obstacles, including a lack of funding for enforcement, media, and education, he said, adding: “That, coupled with the motoring public’s unwillingness to put down their phones, despite disapproving of and recognizing the danger of this behavior, makes for a challenging landscape.”

GHSA will further discuss distracted driving at its 2013 annual meeting, “Highway Safety and Technology: Safely Navigating the Road Ahead.” It will be held August 25-28 in San Diego, California. You can see the full report online.


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