Some sobering news: most drivers are distracted up to 50 percent of their time behind the wheel. More than 33 percent regularly use a mobile phone behind the wheel and over 12 percent admit to texting while driving.
The net result is that up to 30 percent of accidents are caused by distracted drivers, and the real number may be even higher due to reporting inconsistencies. It’s clear that there’s a national problem here, but can stepped up enforcement have a positive effect in reducing distracted driving?
Based on two recent high-profile targeted enforcement campaigns, the answer may be “yes, at least temporarily.” Pilot programs in Syracuse, NY and Hartford, CT were funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as part of their effort to bring attention to distracted driving. The municipalities received $200,000 from the NHTSA, combined with $100,000 from each state, to fund stepped-up police enforcement of distracted driving laws, combined with a media campaign similar to ones used for seat-belt-use enforcement.
Police stepped-up enforcement in waves, allowing time to examine driver behavior before and after each wave. The results of the campaign were impressive, with Hartford reporting a 57 percent drop in hand-held cell phone use behind the wheel and a 72 percent drop in texting behind the wheel. Syracuse reported a 33 percent drop in both hand-held phone use and texting behind the wheel.
Vernon Betkey, chairman of the Governor’s Highway Safety Administration, called the results of the campaigns “encouraging.” Betkey went on to compare the effort to previous campaigns against drunk driving or promoting seat belt use, saying, “The high-visibility model that has worked so well with seat belt use and drunk/drugged driving is translating well to distracted driving.”
Even the GHSA is quick to point out that the results of stepped up enforcement aren’t necessarily permanent. In a report issued earlier this week, the agency admitted, “Experience with similar short-term high visibility enforcement campaigns directed at impaired driving and seat belt use suggests that the effects often diminish over time unless the campaign is repeated periodically.”
With a finite amount of money available for such programs, repeat efforts aren’t likely any time soon.