Pay attention: States are increasing their distracted driving efforts

Distracted driving is an increasing problem as more people have smart phones and want to be connected at all times—even while driving. However, for the past three years states have been working to pass and enforce distraction laws while increasing education and awareness about the dangers. But there is still more work to be done.

The Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA) has released its second look at how states are dealing with the issue of distracted driving and found that 39 states, plus Washington, D.C., say the issue is a priority. That marks an increase of 45 percent from 28 states in 2010. Currently, 47 states have a law against texting while driving, a similar 45-percent increase in three years.

Learn more about staying safe behind the wheel in our guide to distracted driving and teen car safety.

States are actively enforcing these laws, but the police are challenged by variations in how the laws are applied. For instance, some states have age-related restrictions and in some, distraction is a secondary, not a primary, law, which means an officer must find another offense first to pull over a driver for texting. (Read: “Tech aids to prevent distraction.”)

Education has been increasing with 47 states informing the public through campaigns in 2013 and increase from 37 states in 2010. Teen education has been a special focus area because they have a higher crash rate than other age segments and an affinity for being connected 24/7. Twenty-seven states, plus Washington, D.C., have specific outreach programs for teens and their parents—an increase of 22 percent. Not only are these programs discussing the use of cell phones while driving, they are also addressing other distractions such as loud music and teen passengers. (Read: “Young drivers at risk.”)

Collecting accurate data to determine the extent of the distracted driving problem remains difficult, but there has been progress. Now 47 states (up from 43 three years ago) are collecting some distracted driving data in police crash reports. Plus, 18 states are working on upgrades to data collection for the coming year.

While all these efforts are encouraging, there is still a great challenge in solving the nation’s distracted driving problem. States are facing shortfalls in funding enforcement and education programs, and the public continues to use their phones behind the wheel even though they know it can be distracting.

For more on distracted driving, including the latest research, information on complicated car controls, and how to reduce your risk, see our special section.

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