FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 23, 2021
CONTACT: Adam Snider, 202-580-7930
202-365-8971 (after hours)
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and StopDistractions.org are teaming up to reinforce the critical role of equitable enforcement in effectively combating distracted driving. The two organizations are calling on states to implement a comprehensive strategy that includes high visibility enforcement of primary texting and hand-held cellphone bans, coupled with extensive public outreach that explains how distraction takes a driver’s eyes and mind off the road and puts others – especially people outside vehicles – at risk.
“At any given moment during the day in the United States, nearly a half a million drivers are distracted behind the wheel,” said GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins. “It’s a dangerous and deadly epidemic that is responsible for eight to ten percent of all fatal crashes, a statistic that has varied little in the past seven years. This problem demands a broad approach including engineering, technology advancements, education and equitable enforcement of strong laws.”
Crashes caused by distracted driving killed 3,142 people in the United States in 2019 – up 10% from the year before. With overall traffic fatalities surging in the first nine months of 2020 and evidence pointing to increased distracted driving during the COVID-19 pandemic, those numbers could climb even higher.
During April, many states are participating in national high visibility enforcement and public awareness campaigns such as “U Drive. U Text. U Pay,” which are shown to prompt positive behavior change. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration demonstration projects conducted in the Sacramento Valley region of California and across Delaware found that observed driver use of handheld cellphones dropped by one-third following increased police enforcement of distracted driving laws and increased awareness of distracted driving using radio advertisements, news stories and other media.
GHSA joins with StopDistractions.org, which was founded by Jennifer Smith, one of the nation’s preeminent road safety advocates. Smith lost her mother in a distracted driving crash in 2008, when a driver talking on a cellphone ran a red light. She has turned her unimaginable loss into action and has helped lead efforts in numerous states to strengthen distracted driving laws.
“Some state distracted driving laws are years old and have not kept pace with how rapidly this technology has evolved,” said Smith. “StopDistractions.org has been instrumental in modernizing state policy, as well as promoting fair and equitable enforcement of these laws by state and local police.”
Nearly every state has passed some sort of statewide law against distracted driving, but since July 2018, nine states have adopted new hands-free distracted driving laws that account for new technology and clearly state when and how a driver can or cannot use an electronic device behind the wheel. Currently, 24 states and the District of Columbia (D.C.) ban handheld cellphone use, while 48 states and D.C. ban texting while driving. No state completely bans cellphone use – including hands-free operations – for all drivers, but 37 states and D.C. prohibit all cellphone use by novice drivers, and 23 states and D.C. ban it for school bus drivers.
In two states, Virginia and Massachusetts, improvements to distracted driving laws also included additional protections to promote equitable enforcement, such as data collection and reporting requirements on traffic stops. In addition, the National Council of Insurance Legislators, a bipartisan organization of state policymakers, recently unanimously adopted a model state distracted driving law that includes traffic stop data collection provisions and safeguards against unreasonable searches.
“Anyone driving, walking or biking in America today sees motorist distraction all around them and recognizes that addressing it will be a critical part of both reversing the current surge in pedestrian fatalities and the push to achieve zero traffic deaths,” said Adkins.
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The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) is a nonprofit association representing the highway safety offices of states, territories, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. GHSA provides leadership and representation for the states and territories to improve traffic safety, influence national policy, enhance program management and promote best practices. Its members are appointed by their Governors to administer federal and state highway safety funds and implement state highway safety plans. Visit ghsa.org for more information or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
StopDistractions.org is a grassroots non-profit organization dedicated to eliminating the lifelong devastation that results when a loved one is killed or injured in a distracted driving crash. Stopdistractions.org brings together distracted driving victims, victim survivors, foundations and the general public to build awareness and recognition to this reckless behavior. Visit StopDistractions.org for more information, or follow on Facebook and Twitter.