US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Monday increased law enforcement coupled with public education campaigns can dramatically reduce distracted driving.
The government official, citing the results of two pilot projects in Syracuse, New York, and Hartford, Connecticut, said the findings shows that "strong laws, combined with highly visible police enforcement, can significantly reduce dangerous texting and cell phone use behind the wheel.”
LaHood has embarked on a large-scale campaign against distracted driving. In 2009, nearly 5,500 fatalities and another half million injurie sin the US resulted from crashes involving a distracted driver. Overall, distraction-related deaths represented 16 percent of total traffic fatalities in 2009.
The two pilot projects examined whether increased police enforcement along with paid advertising and news media coverage could reduce distracted driving.
During four periods of stepped up enforcement over the past year, Syracuse police issued 9,587 citations for driver violations involving talking or texting on cell phones while driving. During the same period, police in Hartford issued 9,658 tickets for illegal phone use.
Before and after each enforcement wave, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) actively observed cell phone use and conducted public awareness surveys at driver licensing offices in the two cities. The results: In Syracuse, because of high-visibility enforcement ”“ both handheld cell phone use and texting behind the wheel have declined by one-third.
In Hartford, where researchers initially identified drivers talking on their cell phones at twice the frequency, there was a 57 percent drop in handheld use and texting behind the wheel dropped by nearly three-quarters.
"The success of these pilot programs clearly show that combining strong laws with strong enforcement can bring about a sea change in public attitudes and behavior,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland.
The NHTSA plans to test this same three-part formula ”“ tough laws, strong enforcement, and ongoing public awareness ”“ at the state-wide level next.
Nationwide, 34 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam have enacted texting bans. Nine states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands have prohibited all hand-held cell phone use while driving.