Distracted drivers are on a trajectory to top drunk drivers in the major U.S. Stupid Road Hazard category, and may turn out to be even harder to combat. But efforts, at least, are being made.
The Department of Transportation on Thursday stepped up its campaign against distracted driving, announcing its first pilot program to study whether increased law enforcement would reduce distracted driving in two East Coast cities.
“Law enforcement will be out on the roads in Syracuse, N.Y., and Hartford, Conn., with one simple message,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. “If a driver is caught with a cellphone in one hand, they’ll end up with a ticket in the other.”
The $600,000 program, modeled on previous safe-driving programs to curb drunk driving and improve seat belt usage, also involves a paid advertising campaign aimed at men and women up to age 49.
The campaign using radio, TV and print ads began April 1 and will continue until April 16 in the Hartford and Syracuse metropolitan areas.
The first wave of high-visibility enforcement began Thursday and will last nine days in Syracuse; in Hartford it will begin Saturday and run through April 16. Subsequent enforcement waves in both cities will take place throughout the year.
As a California driver, and frequent pedestrian, I can certify that vast numbers of drivers are still more concerned with talking or texting than with the threat of a ticket; whether or not enforcement and large fines can wrench folks away from the addiction to constant communication remains to be seen.
Connecticut and New York are among only eight U.S. states and territories, including California, to ban the use of all hand-held devices, including cellphones, while driving.
Twenty states and territories, including California, as well as Washington, D.C., have a ban on texting while driving, while six states have laws that prohibit local jurisdictions from enacting restrictions, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The federal government also introduced new regulations in January that would subject truck and bus drivers who text while driving commercial vehicles to civil or criminal penalties of up to $2,750.
The Transportation Department said results from the pilot study would serve as a model nationwide for employing high-visibility enforcement, education and outreach to reduce distracted-driving behaviors.
In 2008, 5,870 people were killed and an estimated 515,000 people were injured in police-reported crashes in which at least one form of driver distraction was reported, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
On behalf of those half-million victims, and the many of us who fear becoming a similar statistic just because somebody can’t hang up and drive, this space hereby sides with the Department of Transportation on this one.