Northeast U.S. Crackdowns Cut Distracted DrivingBy Danny King July 28, 2011
Connecticut and New York State crackdowns on handheld mobile-phone use and texting behind the wheel cut distracted driving by at least a third, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Increased law enforcement and public-service announcements likely decrease traffic fatalities stemming from distracted driving. In Syracuse, N.Y., reported instances of driving while holding a cell phone or texting fell by more than 30 percent during periods of stepped-up enforcement. In Hartford, Conn., instances of holding a cell phone behind the wheel fell 57 percent during stepped-up enforcement, while and instances of texting while driving plummeted more than 70 percent, according to NHTSA. Syracuse and Hartford police each issued almost 10,000 tickets during the stepped-up enforcement periods.
Both state and federal governments are looking to cut automobile fatalities by either enacting or increasing penalties associated with driving while texting or talking on a handheld phone. Distracted-driving accidents killed almost 5,500 people and injured another half-million people in the U.S. in 2009, the government says. About one in six fatal accidents that year was caused by a distracted driver. "Based on these results, it is crystal clear that those who try to minimize this dangerous behavior are making a serious error in judgment, especially when a half-million people are injured and thousands more are killed in distracted driving accidents," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in the statement.
PSAs, Billboards Used
The federal, New York State and Connecticut governments collectively spent about $600,000 on the program, which in addition to increased enforcement included roadside message boards, paid advertisements and a public relations campaign that led to local news coverage of the crackdown. The program, which took place in four "waves" between July 2010 and April 2011, resulted in more than 5,000 dedicated enforcement hours in both cities, where more than 225,000 vehicles were observed, according to NHTSA's report on the program.
In Hartford, hand-held phone tickets outnumbered texting tickets by a 42-to-one ratio, while in Syracuse, the ratio was 12 to one. About two-thirds of the states have texting bans, while nine states have outlawed the act of talking on a cell phone without a hands-free device while driving. New York was the first state -- in 2001 -- to ban driving while holding a cell phone. About one in 20 drivers on U.S. roads during daylight hours were talking on hand-held phones in 2009, the most recent year tracked, according to NHTSA.