AASHTO Journal, 10 April 2015
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, state departments of transportation and law enforcement agencies are taking special steps to educate drivers during April about the hazards of distracted driving, and pledging to “aggressively ticket drivers” in the coming week who are using mobile devices behind the wheel.
While some of the safety campaign efforts will go on throughout April as Distracted Driving Awareness Month, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said state and local law enforcement agencies will conduct the ticket crackdown April 10-15 for drivers who are texting or otherwise using cellphones or other devices while driving.
“Distracted driving kills, there is no excuse for it, and it must stop,” said Foxx. “Across the country, we’re putting distracted drivers on notice: U Drive. U Text. U Pay. Texting and driving will at least cost you the price of a ticket but it could very well cost you your life or someone else’s.”
NHTSA said traffic crash data shows that at least 3,154 people were killed in crashes involving distracted drivers in 2013, and the agency estimates that 424,000 were injured in distraction-affected crashes that year.
But NHTSA said 45 states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands ban text messaging for drivers of all ages; 14 states and territories prohibit drivers of all ages from using hand-held cell phones while driving; and 38 states plus the District of Columbia ban cell phone use by novice drivers.
The “U Drive. U Text. U Pay” Messaging effort is backed by a $5 million national television, radio and digital advertising campaign for April 6-15, to both remind the public of the deadly consequences of distracted driving and highlight the financial penalties for violating those distracted driving laws.
Many state DOTs are launching their own efforts in conjunction with the national campaign.
For instance, the Texas DOT kicked off its annual “Talk, Text, Crash” program while reporting that across the state 2014 saw 100,825 crashes involving distracted driving, up 6 percent from 2013. And it said such crashes are highest among 16- to 24-year-olds than any other driver group.
“Nearly 1 in 5 traffic crashes in Texas is caused by a distracted driver,” said TxDOT Deputy Executive Director John Barton. “Last year, 468 people were killed because someone took their attention off the road. How important is a fleeting distraction when it could end in the death of someone, perhaps even one of your loved ones?”
While mobile phone use is the most recognizable driving distraction, TxDOT said any type of behavior that draws a motorist’s attention away from driving is dangerous. And “if a distraction absolutely requires immediate attention, TxDOT reminds drivers to pull over to a safe location and come to a complete stop before diverting their attention.”
The Hawaii DOT is teaching drivers about distractions with the use of a simulator, in which drivers get behind the wheel of a stationary car wearing computerized goggles that put them through different distraction scenarios.
A Honolulu TV report showed viewers how the simulator worked, with a test run by a former Miss Hawaii. HDOT Director Ford Fuchigama said its simulations will “show any individual who gets behind the wheel what the impact could be in terms of creating an accident, or actually even worse … possibly causing a fatality.”