Governments target distracted driving
Distracted driving, including texting and talking on cellphones, is becoming an issue that safety officials say is comparable to drunk driving and not wearing seat belts. As more statistics about the number of cellphone-related accidents and fatalities become available, local and state governments are increasing law enforcement measures and educating residents about the dangers.
Currently, 34 states ban texting and 10 states ban hand-held cellphone use while driving. In 2009, nearly 5,500 people died and almost 450,000 were injured in accidents that reportedly involved distracted driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In April, the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) joined with the California Highway Patrol and local law enforcement agencies to crack down on cellphone use, says Chris Cochran, OTS assistant director of marketing and public affairs. Participating law enforcement agencies issued an estimated 60,000 tickets during the month, compared to the monthly average 20,000 cellphone-related citations written in 2010.
OTS also used the event to establish an ongoing “It’s Not Worth It!” campaign that includes TV commercials, PSAs, billboards, highway signs and more. “[Distracted driving is] not something we realized was going to be a problem until we began seeing the statistics on distracted driving crashes and fatalities,” Cochran says.
In October, Grand Forks, N.D., implemented its own texting-while-driving ban. The ordinance initially fined drivers only $15, though the amount increased to $100 after North Dakota’s texting-and-driving ban went into effect in August. But, Hal Gershman, president of the Grand Forks City Council says the city’s intention was to get residents thinking about the problem. “[The ordinance was meant] to raise awareness,” he says. “That part has worked.”
Florida, like some other states, prohibits local governments from enacting distracted driving ordinances. So, the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX) produced “The Last Word,” a video of a mother and child attending the funeral for the father who was killed by a distracted driver. Since the video debuted on social media outlets in April, it has been viewed more than 37,000 times. “A lot of the incidents occur because drivers are paying attention to something else,” MDX Executive Director Javier Rodriguez says. “It was important for us to get the word out.”
Jennifer Grzeskowiak is a Laguna Beach, Calif.-based freelance writer.