FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 31, 2021
CONTACT: Pete Daniels / firstname.lastname@example.org / 301-442-2249 (C)
Statement of Cathy Chase, President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, on Distracted Driving Awareness Month
April Fools’ Day marks the start of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, but distracted driving is no joke. It remains a leading contributor to motor vehicle crashes, deaths and injuries. Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) calls for decisive action on a comprehensive strategy to curb distraction behind the wheel. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) should issue requirements and performance standards for proven crash avoidance technology. Absent this initiative by DOT, Congress should advance legislation requiring them to do so. On the state level, elected officials should enact primary enforcement laws to restrict use of devices while driving and require seat belt use. These proven ‘vaccines’ will send a clear message that distracted driving is imprudent, intolerable and illegal and provide a technological backstop to prevent crashes before they happen and protect motorists when they occur.
In 2019, more than 3,000 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This was a nearly ten percent increase from the number of fatalities in 2018. An additional 424,000 people were injured in distraction-affected crashes in 2019. It’s important to note that distracted driving crashes are underreported due in part to gaps in crash report coding, database limitations and other challenges. While NHTSA has not yet released distracted driving statistics for 2020, Zendrive released a study last year finding that 57 percent of crashes it analyzed during the pandemic involved device use. Additionally, distracted driving imposes an economic cost of $48 billion, when the last federal figure from 2010 is adjusted solely for inflation. In 2018, distracted driving crashes cost employers nearly $19 billion (calculated in 2019 dollars), according to the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS).
While bringing public awareness to the dangers of distracted driving is important, advancing permanent, proven solutions will address this worsening problem head-on. Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), such as automatic emergency braking (AEB), blind spot detection (BSD) and lane departure warning (LDW), have been shown to prevent crashes or mitigate their severity when they do occur due to distraction and other dangerous driving behaviors. Today, ADAS technology is out of reach for many car buyers, as it is often available only on high-end models or as part of expensive luxury add-on packages, depriving many consumers and road users of its proven benefits. Requiring ADAS in new vehicles and establishing safety standards that ensure the technology performs as expected and needed to respond to all road users will address this safety inequity.
Earlier this year Advocates released our 2021 Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws, which urges states to enact primary enforcement all-driver text messaging restrictions, cell phone restrictions for teen and novice drivers as part of graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws, and all-occupant seat belt laws, among other priorities. Currently, four states (MO, MT, NE, OH) have still not enacted an optimal text messaging restriction, 19 states still need an optimal GDL cell phone restriction (AL, AK, AZ, CA, FL, GA, ID, MS, MO, MT, NE, NV, NY, OK, PA, SC, SD, VA, WY), and 30 states lack a comprehensive seat belt law (AL, AZ, AR, CO, CT, FL, GA, ID, IA, KS, MD, MA, MI, MO, MT, NE, NV, NH, NJ, NC, ND, OH, OK, PA, SD, TN, VT, VA, WV, WY).
At the 2021 Roadmap release, two lawmakers who are taking action to curb distracted driving were featured. Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL, 8th) spoke about legislation he introduced, the SAFE TO DRIVE Act (H.R. 762/ S. 195) which incentivizes states to enact and improve distracted driving laws with federal grant awards and improves transparency in the federal grant determination process. New Jersey Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti (D) discussed Assembly Bill (A.) 855, his bill to broaden the current prohibition on drivers’ use of wireless communication devices to include distracting viewing such as video conferencing and watching movies. Several other states are considering pending efforts and bills that would restrict distracting viewing behind the wheel including Alabama, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina and Utah.
The need to broaden the scope of distracted driving laws was affirmed by a new report by the Transportation Research Board (TRB). It noted that state laws should “be in effect at all times when the vehicle is traveling on public roads,” and prohibit the use of “an electronic device to stream, record, or broadcast video. This includes when the device is used hands-free (mounted, affixed, or resting somewhere in the vehicle).”
The public agrees with this multi-pronged approach as evidenced in surveys by Advocates and others showing approval for laws banning drivers from using devices and strong support for crash avoidance technology that performs better and is readily available. This Distracted Driving Awareness Month, Advocates urges our elected officials to take action on these popular, practical and proven solutions.
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety is an alliance of consumer, medical, public health, law enforcement and safety groups and insurance companies and agents working together to make America’s roads safer. Advocates’ mission is the adoption of federal and state laws, policies and programs that prevent motor vehicle crashes, save lives, reduce injuries, and contain costs.