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States Take Action to Reduce Distracted Driving

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Information fuels our busy lives: where can we get the cheapest gas, directions to the nearest pizza shop or the latest on a breaking news story? Coupled with our craving for constant connections to friends, family and work, today's technologies allow us to know and connect all of these things, almost anywhere, anytime. With more than 50% of adult Americans now owning smart phones and the wireless industry reporting a subscription penetration rate of 102.2%, it's no surprise that many people take these need-to-know activities with them as they drive. The deadly consequences of distracted driving are too often the tragic result, as families of the 3,331 people killed and 387,000 people injured in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2011 will attest.

Distracted driving isn't a new issue, but dealing with texting and other technology use that takes eyes and minds off the road is a great concern to those who work in the field of highway safety. GHSA recently completed a survey of what state highway safety officials are doing to address drivers' use of technology behind the wheel. The report, 2013 Distracted Driving: Survey of the States, reveals that since 2010, more states are enacting and enforcing distracted driving laws, leveraging new media and public/private partnerships to educate the motoring public, focusing on key constituency groups and collecting critical data related to the problem.

State highway safety leaders are responsible for developing effective programs and policies to keep all roadway users safe and are a key resource in states' efforts to change driver behavior. Tragedies caused by distracted driving have prompted many states to step up efforts in several areas in response to drivers' increasing use of distracting technologies.

States are passing additional distracted driving laws. GHSA supports comprehensive solutions to distracted driving, including a total ban on cell phone use for new drivers as well as state legislation banning hand-held cell phone use and text messaging for all drivers. The recent survey found that while no state fully bans all cell phone use for all drivers, 47 states and DC now have specific laws prohibiting various forms of distracted driving impacting most drivers. Of these, 41 have laws that ban texting by all drivers, up from 28 in 2010. Since that same time, nine more states passed laws to prohibit all cell use by novice drivers, bringing the total of states with these laws to 37. Twelve states and DC now have hand-held cell phone bans, five more than in 2010, a 63% increase. While GHSA is encouraged by these policy advancements, there is room for additional progress and policy change.

States are stepping up enforcement. Law enforcement officers in almost every state are actively enforcing distracted driving laws, a significant uptick since 2010. From routine traffic patrols that include distracted driving enforcement as standard protocol, to targeted efforts focused on specific events such as Distracted Driving Awareness Month, law enforcement officers are cracking down on violators. This past year, the California Office of Traffic Safety provided grant funding to 80 law enforcement agencies to conduct additional hand-held and texting enforcement operations.

States are educating motorists. Using multiple strategies and channels, state highway safety officials are getting the word out to drivers about the dangers of distracted driving. The 2013 survey revealed that 47 states and DC have taken steps to educate the public about the dangers of distracted driving, a 26% increase from 37 states in 2010. Most states reported using social media -- including Twitter, YouTube and Facebook -- to get out these important messages, up 125% in the past three years.

States highway safety officials also recognize the power of partnering with other entities to reinforce safety messages. The survey reported that 17 states and DC work directly with employers on distracted driving prevention efforts, and 42 states collaborate with private businesses and other governmental organizations, up 20% from 2010, when 35 states used these strategies.

A significant partnership for many states is with the Ford Motor Company Fund's Ford Driving Skills for Life (Ford DSFL) program. For the last ten years, GHSA and more than 40 states have actively addressed teen distracted driving through this program. GHSA state members partner with Ford DSFL to bring this program to their states, and many have received funding from Ford DSFL to complement their own state teen driving efforts.

Through programs like Ford DSFL and other projects, teens are a special focus of anti-distracted driving efforts in many states. As teens are among the earliest and strongest adopters of new technology and the age group with the highest crash risk, the survey found that 27 states and DC specifically target teen drivers and their parents with educational efforts detailing the risks of distracted driving. Through these programs, states emphasize not only the dangers of cell phone use and texting, but also distraction caused by loud music and other teen passengers.

States are collecting more information and conducting research. Accurate data is critical to developing effective solutions that prevent crashes and save lives. Currently, 47 states and DC collect distracted driving-related data via police crash reports. Recognizing the need to keep pace with rapidly changing technology, state highway safety officials in 18 states reported that data collection improvement efforts are planned for the coming year. Several states also reported collaborations with colleges and universities on distracted driving research to conduct observational surveys and analyze crash data to better understand the problem and develop life-saving countermeasures.

While not a new issue, distracted driving is a serious highway safety problem that has been amplified by increasingly sophisticated communications and information technology. State highway safety leaders recognize the complexities of the distracted driving problem. Alongside key stakeholders and partners, they are responding with targeted programs and policies to save lives and reduce injuries.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Harvard School of Public Health in an effort to call more attention to the dangers of texting while driving. Distracted driving is the cause of 350,000 crashes per year, and the series will be putting a spotlight on efforts being made to combat the crisis by the public and private sectors and the academic and nonprofit worlds. In addition to original reporting on the subject, we'll feature at least one post a day every weekday in November. To see all the posts in the series, click here; for more information on the national effort, click here.

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