Part of the auto safety overhaul languishing in Congress would require the addition of black box recording devices that would indicate the cause of car accidents. While Senators try to find a way to get a workable safety bill passed, the state of Alabama has moved forward with an experimental eCrash data recording system designed to track the impact of distracted driving. Based on preliminary data, the University of Alabama’s Center for Advanced Public Policy found that distracted driving was responsible for more than 1,400 accidents since June of 2009.
What’s most surprising is that the state’s Department of Economic and Community Affairs predicts that the number is actually lower than real accidents caused by distracted driving since many counties didn’t begin using the eCrash system until after June of 2009. “It’s such a new program that the data is very limited,” said Josh Carples of the ADECA.
Alabama currently forbids drivers under 18 to use a cell phone while behind the wheel, but has not extended the regulation to the general community. Earlier this year, a law against distracted driving for all ages failed in the state’s senate. The bill’s sponsor plans to reintroduce the law this fall, but it’s fate is uncertain as long the dangerous practice remains socially acceptable.
Opponents of distracted driving say it won’t become outlawed until it adopts the social stigma that has become associated with drunk driving or not wearing a seat belt. “It’s about bringing a change in the social norms and changing that mind-set,” said UAB researcher Despina Stavrinos.
That sentiment has been echoed repeatedly by safety advocates here in California as well. Applauding the early success of California’s laws against distracted driving, State Senator Joe Simitian has introduced a bill that would increase the fines for driving while talking, texting, or typing. Referencing advances in seat belt and drunk driving problems over the past decade, Simitian told GJEL that eradicating distracted driving “will take time, education, and enforcement.”
Alabama’s eCrash data recording system is a great step toward educating the public about just how prevalent accidents caused by distracted driving are. But in Alabama, California, and nationwide, this education needs to expand and influence lawmakers to pass stricter regulations against distracted driving in order to save lives.
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