Houston, TX (PressExposure) July 06, 2010 -- Congress soon may support state and local efforts to combat distracted driving. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee recently approved legislation that would offer grants to states that enact laws prohibiting texting and using a handheld device while driving.
Distracted driving has emerged as one of the most serious safety issues on the nation's roadways. It generally refers to the practice of texting or talking on a cell phone while driving, which has caused thousands of car accident fatalities. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates distracted driving accounts for 6,000 deaths and at least 500,000 injuries every year.
Although states will no doubt welcome Congressional support, Congress actually lags behind states in combating distracted driving.
A recent report from the Governor's Highway Safety Association, "Curbing Distracted Driving: 2010 Survey of State Safety Programs," is the first comprehensive look at state activities and programs designed to address distracted driving. The report found that distracted driving has emerged as a priority for state highway safety agencies. Twenty-seven states, D.C., and Guam indicated that distracted driving is included in their Strategic Highway Safety Plans (SHSPs). These plans reflect statewide highway safety priorities. The GHSA says this is significant because these plans are only updated every few years and having more than half of states listing distraction as a priority reflects the states' commitment on this serious issue.
States also are moving aggressively to put distracted driving laws on the books. The first state to ban text messaging was Washington in 2007. Now, twenty-eight states, D.C. and Guam now ban text messaging by all drivers. Seven states, D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands ban hand-held cell phone use behind the wheel for all drivers. School bus drivers are prohibited from talking behind the wheel in 18 states and D.C.
The legislation, S. 1938, sponsored by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., stipulates that 50 percent of designated highway safety grants be used for education about the dangers of texting and using a cell phone while driving, for traffic signs about the state distracted driving law, and for enforcement of the law.
The bill also directs the administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to establish a Distracted Driving National Education Program, and directs the secretary of Transportation to establish a research program to study distracted driving by passenger and commercial vehicle drivers. The Federal Communications Commission also would have to submit a report to the Senate committee on distracted driving. Insurer associations said they support the bill.
Experts who have closely followed the issue support the initiative. "It's vital to send a clear message to all drivers that texting and cell calls are dangerous and can cause catastrophic car accidents," says Jim Adler, a Houston car accident attorney. "Programs educating drivers about the potentially catastrophic dangers of distracted driving are vitally important as, outside of law enforcement, distracted driving has been something of an unrecognized epidemic. But once the message is received, to some extent, the public must police itself, curb those calls and 'hang up and drive,' " Adler says.