Statement by Cathy Chase, President, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, on Distracted Driving Awareness Month

  • March 29, 2024
150 150 Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety


Statement by Cathy Chase, President, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, on Distracted Driving Awareness Month

(March 29, 2024, Washington, DC) | April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, yet every day on our roadways is replete with distracted driving decisions and dangers. Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) calls on state and federal leaders to take urgent, comprehensive action to effectively combat this deadly behavior and protect all road users.

Every day of this month, approximately 118 people will be killed and 6,800 injured in motor vehicle crashes, many of which will have distraction as a contributing factor. Promises, pledges and proposals are not enough. Progress on proven policies is needed to save lives.

The Facts

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports, in 2021 alone, over 360,000 people were injured and more than 3,500 were killed in crashes related to distracted driving. These figures are not a complete representation of this roadway plague and the true impact is demonstrably higher because of underreporting due to differences in police crash report coding, database limitations and other challenges. These crashes are also expensive and resulted in over $98 billion in costs in 2019 alone.

Vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians, bicyclists and those who use wheelchairs and micromobility devices, are particularly endangered when drivers are distracted. Total non-occupant crash fatalities related to distraction increased almost 10% percent (from 587 to 644), from 2020 to 2021.

Federal Action Needed Now

As mandated in the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA, Pub. L. 117-58), the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) must issue a final rule requiring automatic emergency braking (AEB) in new passenger vehicles and light trucks. This action will prevent or mitigate a range of crash factors, including distracted driving, and be a huge step forward for public safety. The IIJA also required a final rule for AEB on heavy vehicles, another essentially needed improvement. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found AEB systems in passenger vehicles reduce front-to-rear crashes by 50 percent, and AEB with pedestrian detection decreases pedestrian crashes by 27 percent. A similar study on large trucks found AEB reduced crashes by 12% overall and 41% for rear-end crashes.

DOT also must issue minimum performance standards for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) including blind spot detection (BSD), lane keeping assist (LKA)) and other crash avoidance technologies.

Other technology, like systems that monitor driver capability (such as driver monitoring systems (DMS)) to ensure an alert and responsive driver, also can help prevent or mitigate crashes caused by distraction, impairment, fatigue, driver disengagement, automation complacency, and the foreseeable misuse of automated driving systems.

DOT must accelerate completion of all these lifesaving safety standards with great urgency.

State Laws to Prohibit Distracted Driving Urgently Needed

Advocates calls on state lawmakers to advance comprehensive traffic safety laws including those restricting a range of distracting device use while driving. There is ample opportunity for states across the country to add new restrictions to curb manual, cognitive and visual distractions. In addition to banning texting while driving and manual device use, restrictions on distracted viewing, like prohibiting FaceTime, video conferencing, streaming movies, etc. (whether the device is dash mounted or not), are clearly needed to deter such use behind the wheel. Additional restrictions for novice teen and young adult drivers should be prioritized to send a clear message that this higher risk driving population must focus on the driving task, not on devices.  Laws that are secondary enforcement should be upgraded to a regular primary enforcement law to better deter distracted driving and clarify enforcement.

This Distracted Driving Awareness Month, our leaders must act with immediacy to end the scourge of distracted driving crashes, fatalities, and injuries. And, everyone needs to put away their devices when driving.

You can review all safety recommendations in Advocates’ 2024 Roadmap to Safety report.


About Advocates

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.