Highway fatalities are still going up and the traffic safety community is working hard to understand why. But, one of the clear things that we can do to save lives is eliminate distractions. And, yes, there’s far more to distraction than sending a text or placing a cellphone call. But it’s those electronic distractions — like texting and calling — that take the driver’s eyes and attention away from the road that can be especially risky and result in tragic endings.
We learned a lot about the heightened risk from not paying attention to the driving task at the “Attentive Driving: Countermeasures for Distraction” forum we held in March. Leading experts talked about the myriad of distractions and ways to mitigate the risks. We discussed one of the biggest challenges, which is moving drivers and societal norms to foster attentive driving. Panelist Dr. Donald L. Fisher of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, said a clear way to start changing norms and behavior is through laws.
This is why I was so encouraged this week when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced it will issue grants to states that have enacted laws banning distracted driving in fiscal year 2013. In order to qualify for a grant a state must have a comprehensive primary law against distracted driving or a primary law prohibiting texting while driving. This is a win-win approach to improving traffic safety.
Funding from the grants is available to the 35 states that currently enforce primary texting-while-driving bans. That means a law enforcement officer can stop the driver solely for texting while driving. The balance of the grant money is available to states that have much stricter bans. Hopefully, the availability of additional funds will encourage states to strengthen their laws during their 2013 legislative sessions
I look forward to the day when there are full bans of the use of personal electronic devices while driving. In the meantime, I’ll continue to put my communications devices in the trunk. That’s how I resist the temptation to make that one quick call.