As April and Distracted Driving Awareness Month rolls around, you can expect safety advocates and lawmakers to discuss the many dangers of distracted driving. But despite reports that distracted driving kills nearly 6,000 people and injures about 500,000 each year, some have said the impact of distracted driving on highway safety has been exaggerated. So in addition to information about technological solutions to car distractions and a star-studded awareness campaign, expect Distracted Driving Awareness Month to reignite the debate about whether or not we need to eliminate the dangerous practice.
Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has made anti-distracted driving campaigns a priority of his administration. “Distracted driving has become a deadly epidemic on America’s roads,” he has said. LaHood has faced criticism in the past, and has always fought back with a barrage of facts that show distracted driving is dangerous and prevention programs work. So it will be interesting to see how LaHood responds to this latest attack. “If cell phones and all the other new technologies are so dangerous, why aren’t we seeing carnage on the highways?” asked Aaron Bragman, an auto analyst with consulting firm HIS. “We’re not. The number of highway fatalities is lower than it has been in years.”
It’s a good point, but fails to make a distinction between total highway traffic fatalities and distracted driving fatalities. The Department of Transportation fights tirelessly to reduce fatal car accidents nationwide, and the number of total accidents has been falling for years. But the data suggests that distracted driving accidents could rise with cell phone technology growth. And it’s no stretch to say that 6,000 preventable car accident deaths should be addressed.
Let’s review LaHood’s history combating false distracted driving claims. Last July, the Washington-based Seward Square Group called anti-distraction campaigns “a full-throttle assault on mobile technology,” adding that “auto, tech, and insurance industries…have become collateral damage.” LaHood was quick to fire back on his blog. “Regardless of what a powerful lobbying group has to say, the simple fact is that texting and talking on cell phones behind the wheel is a deadly epidemic,” he wrote. “To suggest otherwise is to put your head in the sand. To spend considerable resources to suggest otherwise is a glaring waste.”
The next incident came last September, when Insurance Institute for Highway Safety president Adrian Lund predicted that despite an increase in technology “we shouldn’t see too big an increase in crashes,” and added that LaHood’s programs “don’t seem an effective strategy for addressing it.” LaHood responded with a set of facts from pilot anti-distracted driving programs in Hartfort, Connecticut and Syracuse, New York. In only six months, he wrote, “hand held cell phone use has dropped 56% in Hartford and 38% in Syracuse; and texting while driving has declined 68% in Hartford and 42% in Syracuse.”
So LaHood has a strong history of defending his groundbreaking and successful programs against distracted driving. It will be interesting to see how he continues to defend this campaign against Bragman’s comments at the start of Distracted Driving Awareness Month.
Photo courtesy of Fastlane Blog