Cellphone Use Still an Issue in Distracted Driving Accidents

Current laws such as banning texting while driving, banning novice drivers from cellphone use or a complete ban on hand-held device use for all drivers, are not having the intended effect of reducing crashes due to distracted driving. Currently, cellphone use is banned for all drivers in 10 states and texting while driving is banned in 39 states.

In order to address the issue, several states have already enacted or will soon enact stiffer fines for drivers using cellphones. For example, one law among several being considered in New Jersey may soon require first-time offenders to pay a stiff $200 fine with third-time offenders losing their license to drive for 90 days.

distracted-drivingThe lack of effectiveness of the current laws was highlighted in a 2010 study by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) (www.iihs.org/about_hldi.html) which reports that bans on use of hand-held devices while driving have not reduced the amount of crashes in the study group states. An affiliate of the Institute for Highway Safety, the non-profit HLDI researches and publishes data and insurance statistics for vehicles in the United States. The HLDI analyzes insurance losses for over 150 million passenger vehicles, covering 80 percent of the insured vehicles on the road.

Many states are looking at the data with an eye towards making the roads safer in their communities and higher penalties for this form of distracted driving are an option they are considering. The current debate revolves around the potential for stiffer fines for those using cellphones when they are banned. Proponents use the example of the seat belt laws which, some studies show, were more effective once higher fines were imposed.

Others say that drivers simply need more education, not stiffer fines. Distracted driving is a very real problem in the United States. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) (www.nhtsa.gov), for the year 2010, 18 percent of crashes resulting in injury were due to distracted drivers. And among the causes of distracted driving, including eating or drinking, talking and reading maps, texting is by far the most serious issue because it requires so much attention from the driver not only visually but also manually and cognitively.

As the debate continues, several other states including Connecticut and California will attempt to raise fines for drivers using cellphones. Some states, like New Jersey, are taking the distracted driving problem even more seriously, hoping to bring the penalties for causing death or serious injury while driving distracted up to the same level as those for drunk driving.