Distracted driving brought on in part by mobile devices has become a major problem across the U.S., and legislators have been scrambling for solutions to make drivers put down the cell phones and be attentive to the road. U.S. transportation secretary Ray LaHood has called this one of the biggest safety issues facing U.S. motorists today.
But even with laws banning the use of hand-held cell phones already on the books in several states, the problem doesn’t seem to be going away, although a recent crackdown has shown some positive results. So what exactly needs to be done to get more people to pay attention to the road?
According to a report funded by State Farm, the so-called hands-free “solution” apparently hasn’t been helping much. The report found no conclusive evidence that the use of a hands-free cellphone is any less risky than hand-held use. Surprised? Researchers were too, and found there is still a lot of distracted driving research that needs to be done.
Some PSAs have been using scare tactics to prove just how dangerous using a mobile device can be. The spots depict a teen texting one minute, in an accident complete with metal wreckage and flashing ambulance lights in the next. The State Farm study also concludes that while cell phone use does increase crash risk to some extent, there is no consensus on a specific, quantifiable increase directly attributable to hand-held cell phone use while driving.
So, hands-free devices don’t completely solve the problem, and there is no evidence that cell phones have greatly increased the chances of getting involved in an accident. What’s next? Systems to block or limit a driver’s phone calls have been developed but have not yet been scientifically evaluated.
Before it comes to this, researchers suggest states that don’t already enforce cell phone or texting bans need to enact them, and states that do have these laws in place need to continue to enforce them. Particularly, texting while driving needs to be paid special attention to, as it proves to be more dangerous. Employers are even urged to get involved and implement cell phone policies for their employees, and low-cost roadway countermeasures like edge-line and center-line rumble strips should also be more widely considered.
Before it comes to that, researchers suggest states that don’t already enforce cell phone or texting bans need to enact them, and states that do have these laws in place need to continue to enforce them.
The National Traffic Safety Administration found that tough crackdowns do significantly reduce the amount of cell phone and texting violations after it implemented two government-funded publicized police crackdowns in Syracuse, N.Y., and Harford, Conn. In Syracuse, texting fell from 2.8 percent to 1.9 percent; talking on the phone dropped 6.8 percent to 2.9 percent. Researchers found drivers in Hartford used their phones twice as much as drivers in Syracuse, but they even showed a tremendous improvement, dropping hand-held use down to 57 percent and texting down to 72 percent.
For perspective, Syracuse Police issued 9,587 citations for talking/texting during four periods of stepped up enforcement over the past year, while police in Hartford issued 9,658 tickets during the same period.
Along with strong laws and strong enforcement, the Governor’s Highway Safety Association also suggests employers get involved and implement cell phone policies for their employees, while low-cost roadway countermeasures like edge-line and center-line rumble strips should also be more widely considered.
In 2009, distracted drivers contributed to nearly 5,500 fatalities and another half-million injuries. Secretary LaHood hopes 2011 will show a substantial decrease in such crashes under these measures.