FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Media Contact: Helen Jonsen, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-977-7534
Statement by Cathy Chase, President, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety
On Distracted Driving Awareness Month
(Washington, D.C.-March 31, 2023) With tomorrow kicking off Distracted Driving Awareness Month, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) calls on our Nation’s leaders to take urgent action to end distracted driving with new comprehensive regulations and laws that will protect all road users. Every day of this month, approximately 115 people will be killed and many more injured in motor vehicle crashes, many of which distraction will be a contributing factor. Promises, pledges and proposals are not enough. Progress on proven policies will save lives.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports, in 2020 alone, over 300,000 people were injured and more than 3,000 were killed in crashes related to distracted driving. This is not a complete representation of this roadway plague and the true impact is uncertain because of underreporting.
Vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians and bicyclists, are particularly endangered when drivers are distracted. Pedestrian fatalities increased 13 percent (from 6,515 to 7,342), and bicyclist deaths were up five percent (from 938 to 985) from 2020 to 2021. The numbers continue to climb. In the first six months of 2022, there was a further two percent increase in pedestrian deaths (3,340) and an eight percent increase in pedalcyclist fatalities (448).
Smartphone capabilities and usage, and a wide range of distracting electronic communications options (including apps, social media, gaming, video chatting, photography or video recording) continue to grow rapidly. Even the use of so-called hands-free devices causes distraction. Voice-to-text and/or dashboard-mounted options can divert the driver’s attention from the road. Hands-free is not distraction-free. According to NHTSA, the percentage of drivers visibly using hand-held devices while driving increased by 127 percent between 2012 and 2021.
In a 2022 survey of adults commissioned by Advocates and Selective Insurance, nearly three-quarters (70 percent) of licensed drivers reported they used a mobile device while driving for personal reasons in the previous 90 days. This alarmingly high number rose even further among those who drive for work, with 86 percent reporting such use in the previous three months.
Federal Action Needed Now
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) must fulfill the vehicle safety rulemakings mandated in the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA, Pub. L. 117-58) with great expediency and urgency. This includes issuing minimum performance standards for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) (i.e., automatic emergency braking (AEB), blind spot detection (BSD), lane keeping assist (LKA)) and other crash avoidance technologies. 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. These standards need to apply to all new vehicles and be comprehensive so that all road users are protected in all lighting conditions and at all speeds, as is feasible for the technology.
Other technology, like driver monitoring systems (DMS) for passenger vehicles, 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 research of DMS, as also directed in IIJA, and then issue a safety standard for its use.
State Laws to Prohibit Distracted Driving Urgently Needed
Advocates urges state lawmakers to advance comprehensive traffic safety laws including those restricting a range of device use while driving. While some states have taken action to curb distracted viewing, like prohibiting FaceTime, video conferencing, streaming movies, etc. (whether the device is dash mounted or not), others, like Montana and Missouri, have not even passed an all-driver texting ban, which is a minimum action to curb distracted driving.
This Distracted Driving Awareness Month, our leaders must act with immediacy to end the scourge of distracted driving crashes, fatalities and injuries.
Note: Advocates rated the 50 states and the District of Columbia on distracted driving laws in our 20TH Edition Roadmap to Safety.