With 47 states banning motorists from texting at the wheel and 15 forbidding handheld cellphone use, legislatures have made attempts to diminish the prevalence of distracted driving. But as any casual observer can acknowledge, people continue to use their mobile devices, risking the safety of themselves as well as their fellow road users in the process.
With April being Distracted Driving Awareness Month, the National Safety Council is imploring officials to pass a bill that will make it illegal to manipulate any type of electronic device when individuals are driving – regardless of what state they’re operating in.
“The NSC believes states could do more to make distracted driving history.”
Half measures too common
In its recently released State of Safety report, the NSC examined the traffic laws and regulations on the books in all 50 states to better determine the comprehensiveness of motor vehicle operator multitasking legislation. It cited four states – Montana being one of them – as places that could use more rigorous regulations. These states either don’t have a universal texting ban for drivers, haven’t banned underage motorists from multitasking at the wheel or both.
Additionally, NSC noted 16 states only address one of the two safety enforcement measures.
While substantial strides have been made, there’s plenty of room for improvement, noted Deborah Hersman, NSC president and CEO.
“The National Safety Council is encouraged to see legislators addressing distracted driving at the state level,” Hersman explained, noting how New Mexico, Texas and Iowa recently passed legislation that toughens distracted driving laws. “But more work needs to be done. No state currently has a law that completely bans all electronic-device use behind the wheel. The Council believes a full ban – including a ban on hands-free electronic devices – is the most effective way to prevent distracted driving crashes.”
Stricter rules now enforced in Washington State
Washington is one such state that’s implemented a full ban. As of Jan. 23, any motorist found to be using his or her electronic device may be fined $136 the first time and $234 should there be a second offense, The Seattle Times reported. Officials believe adding teeth to the existing law will further deter motorists away from picking up their devices while their vehicles are in motion.
Auto insurers are staunchly behind the effort to rid the roads of distracted driving by toughening enforcement legislation.
“Distracted driving – and the ubiquitous use of smartphones behind the wheel – is one of the leading causes for the rise in vehicle crashes nationwide,” said Bob Passmore, Property Casualty Insurers Association of America assistant vice president of personal lines. “Advanced technologies have made cars safer than ever in recent years, so it would be logical to think that roadway crashes and deaths would be decreasing. Unfortunately, vehicle crashes and fatalities are rising sharply across the country.”
“Motor vehicle deaths in the U.S. have exceeded 40,000 for two years in a row.”
Last year, traffic-related fatalities in the U.S. topped 40,000, according to the NSC and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That’s the second time in as many years motor vehicle deaths were above 40,000 and 6 percent higher than the total in 2015.
Passmore added that with the days getting longer and temperatures elevating, the potential for distracted driving increases with more people on the roads.
It’s pretty straightforward when it comes to distracted driving prevention: Keep your eyes the road. Distractions and diversions are part and parcel of roadway travel, not just inside the car, but outside as well, from signage to snowfall, wildlife to wild sightings. A moment’s inattention can lead to an accident.
“Nothing is so important that it needs to be completed in the 5-10 minutes it takes to arrive at your destination,” said Cheri Copeland, personal lines sales executive at PayneWest. “If it is that important, take a couple of moments to pull over and handle it.
“At PayneWest, we want our customers to arrive safely,” Copeland added. “We always encourage drivers to put the phone down and enjoy the beautiful scenery.”