Driving Safety Isn't Optional
By early 2011, nine states will have laws on their books banning use of hand-held cell phones while driving. Twenty-seven states have primary enforcement texting bans in place or will begin primary enforcement this year.
The value of safe driving programs for U.S. employers is rising just as fast as the cost of potential traffic violations climbs. While red-light cameras have been a gold mine for many jurisdictions, the money to be made from cell phone violations is exponentially higher.
As of July 2010, 27 states have primary enforcement texting bans in place or will start primary enforcement later this year. It is illegal to talk on a hand-held cell phone while driving in California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Utah, Washington state, and the District of Columbia. Maryland will join that crowd Oct. 1, and Delaware will be added in January 2011, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety/Highway Loss Data Institute chart of cell phone laws.
After five Massachusetts State Police troopers' cruisers were struck by motor vehicles in a five-week period, Col. Marian McGovern announced a new traffic enforcement program July 22 and a study of troopers' visibility during routine traffic stops. Nationwide, about half of the 87 police officers killed in the line of duty this year were killed by motor vehicles or crashes, she said.
"Every day, our troopers deal with drunk, erratic, aggressive, negligent, and distracted drivers," McGovern said. "Just this past weekend, on the same morning that Trooper [Corey] Rose was hit, a young woman was killed on Route 495 in Haverhill when, according to preliminary evidence, she lost control after either texting or looking at her cell phone. That very same morning, in Worcester, another young woman for some reason ended up going the wrong way, against the traffic, on Route 190. She drove into a pickup truck occupied by two young men. All three people were killed. We are still investigating why the young woman ended up on the wrong side of the highway."
Ten MSP troopers' cruisers have been struck by drunk drivers so far this year, putting the department on pace to match last year's total of 20 cruisers hit by impaired drivers, she said. "We are grateful to the media for helping us spread this message. The public needs to be aware of the consequences of impaired and distracted driving, and of speeding, and being too aggressive. If people choose to drive this way, they may rest assured that the Massachusetts State Police will be looking for them."
Traffic deaths in Ohio this year are up 12 percent from a year ago. Speed cameras deployed on Arizona freeways that had activated 2.7 million times since their installation in September 2008 were turned off July 15 when the state's Department of Public Safety did not renew the vendor's contract. The Ohio Department of Public Safety's superintendent, David Dicken, expressed concern July 23 that 566 people have died so far this year on Ohio's roads, a 12 percent increase from 499 at the same point last year. The department's goal since 2007 has been to reduce traffic deaths 10 percent by 2011.
"Although we've experienced great strides over the past several years in our 24/7 Initiative aimed at reducing fatal crashes, I am alarmed at the recent increase," Dicken said. "Troopers are going to need to be vigilant at removing impaired drivers and attempting to reduce potential crashes over the next several months if we are going to meet our goal."
The Missouri State Highway Patrol launched a statewide campaign July 16 urging drivers to put down their phones, with a "No Texting" logo on window stickers offered to motorists and businesses. Cell phone usage while driving contributed to more than 1,780 traffic crashes in Missouri in 2009 and to 791 crashes during the first half of 2010, causing eight deaths and 239 injuries. Con-way Freight and Roush Fenway Racing joined MSHP in the campaign.
"Distracted drivers cause many of the traffic injuries and deaths we deal with on our roads today, and cell phone usage -- particularly texting while driving -- is especially dangerous and unsafe. These tragic consequences are easily preventable if drivers would simply put down their phones and focus on the road," said Col. Ronald Replogle, MSHP's superintendent. Missouri prohibits use of cell phones or texting devices for drivers 21 and younger.
The Governors Highway Safety Association's position on red light cameras, articulated in a June 2010 letter to U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, is available here. The GHSA page tracking cell phone laws is here.