We wrote yesterday about the proposed hands free phone law currently languishing in congress. A set of key democrats think the law would drastically reduce vehicular deaths, but the bill stalled thanks to confusion about its nationwide implementation. Meanwhile, the US Department of Transportation gave these senators a helping hand Thursday by jump starting distracted driving prevention test programs in New York and Connecticut.
The programs, which will cost a total of $600,000 in federal and state funds, will span the next week and a half, intending to send a clear message: “Phone in One Hand. Ticket in the Other.” Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood has said that ending distracted driving, the number one killer of teenagers, is his office’s primary goal and that this trial program is similar to successful past initiatives used to curb drunk driving.
According to the National Highway Traffic Security Administration, a distracted driver was responsible for almost a fifth of all crashes in 2008, causing nearly 6,000 deaths and 500,000 injuries. These stats have brought distracted driving to the attention of a cohort of prominent safety advocates, including television superstar Oprah Winfrey.
Secretary Lahood is working closely with Oprah, who this month launched an anti-distracted driving campaign that will culminate with “No Phone Zone Day” on April 30. “We know that if we can get people to put away their cell phones and other electronic devices when they are behind the wheel,” Lahood said, “we can save thousands of lives and prevent hundreds of thousands of injuries every year.” The show’s producers say Oprah’s petition has already received hundreds of thousands of signatures.
Stopping texting and typing in the car should be a no brainer. But despite reports showing that talking on the phone quadruples the risk of a crash, and texting is even more dangerous, drivers continue to choose distraction. So lawmakers have taken it upon themselves to enact laws to supplement personal responsibility. It will be interesting to see whether drivers will cease and desist, or risk collisions and heightened fines despite the dangers and warning signs.
Photo credit: ASurroca (Creative Commons)