Rising Death Toll From Distracted Driving Prompts Action

Crashes involving a distracted driver killed 3,142 people in 2019.

The fallout from distracted driving is not pretty. When a person reads a text while driving, his or her eyes are off the road for an average of five seconds. At 55 miles per hour, that’s like driving the length of a football field while blindfolded. The result of such behavior is this: crashes involving a distracted driver killed 3,142 people in 2019, that’s nearly 10% more lives lost than the year before.

Those are the highlights of a new report that examined distracted driving laws, enforcement and public educational practices across the U.S. and Canada at a time when deaths continue to be a major road safety concern. The report, “Using Electronic Devices While Driving: Legislation and Enforcement Implications,” calls attention to elements of the most effective laws and efforts, and offers resources to policymakers on how best to enact or strengthen them.

Among the findings, researchers determined that jurisdictions with strong traffic safety laws, supported by enforcement, public education and outreach, tended to have lower overall traffic fatality rates.

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The report is the first project from the Behavioral Traffic Safety Cooperative Research Program, a collaboration between theTransportation Research Board, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the Governors Highway Safety Association, a nonprofit organization representing state highway safety offices, which announced its publication on Wednesday.

The aim of the report, to increase understanding and propose practical solutions, is important, as while every state currently has some restrictions in place to address distracted driving, the laws vary in scope and rigor. Several states, including Michigan, Ohio, South Carolina and Utah, are considering legislation to enhance their distracted driving laws, according to the

In the first phase of the project, researchers reviewed existing laws in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, 10 Canadian provinces, and performed an in-depth review of 20 selected jurisdictions.

The following common elements were identified in the most effective laws and safety efforts:

Researchers used these findings to develop a series of customized tools, including key components to consider in crafting laws, how to publicize information on distracted driving legislation, and even alternative ways to reduce distracted driving without legislation.

The Transportation Research Board will host a webinar “Texting While Driving – Implications of Legislation on Electronic Devices” on Monday, March 15, 1:00-2:30 p.m. ET, to discuss the report.

To learn more about the report, click here; to access it, click here.

Tanya Mohn covers road safety and consumer travel issues for Forbes. She is a regular contributor to The New York Times, and has reported for the BBC, NBC News, ABC

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