Local Governments Plan Massive Crackdown On Distracted Driving

Distracted driving is a preventable problem that claims thousands of lives each year. As serious as the problem is, it’s an issue law enforcement has yet to solve. What, if any, solutions are currently on the table?

Nationwide Crackdowns on Distracted Driving

According to the results of the latest Travelers Risk Index survey, distracted driving is peaking. Nearly 80 percent of people talk on the phone and drive, while more than 30 percent admit to having been in a near-miss collision because of a distraction.

The survey results suggest that the most common distractions behind the wheel are typing a text or email (44 percent), using social media (23 percent), recording videos or taking photos (22 percent), and shopping online (15 percent).

“It’s startling to see that drivers continue to engage in potentially life-threatening habits,” says Chris Hayes, second vice president of Transportation, Risk Control at Travelers. “Whether driving for work or on personal time, many drivers overlook risks that make our roads more dangerous for all of us.”

Law enforcement, however, is done overlooking these risks. Nationwide, new laws, legislation, and consequences for distracted driving are being rolled out.

In Massachusetts, where the last meaningful legislation was passed in 2010, lawmakers just spent time reviewing an assortment of bills banning hand-held cellphone use while behind the wheel. One of the bills was filed by Governor Charlie Baker himself.

The state of Georgia is coming up on its first anniversary of being a totally hands-free state. Drivers cannot, under any circumstances, have a phone in their hand while driving. Electronic devices can only be used with a compatible hands-free device. So far, the new rules seem to be working and, thanks to a major PR push in the weeks leading up to the legislation, adoption has been swifter than most anticipated.

Georgia’s neighbor to the south, Florida, is working on similar legislation. A new bill proposed by Representative Jackie Toledo and Senator Wilton Simpson would expand the definition of distracted driving to include everything from using a phone to petting dogs while behind the wheel.

“Every year we see more and more cases involving distracted driving auto accidents caused by drivers who are texting or otherwise using their phone while they are behind the wheel,” Florida-based Ward & Barnes, P.A. explains. This new bill could finally spark some real change.

In New Jersey, law enforcement is prepared to kick off its annual campaign against distracted driving – and this time they have some ammunition. Authorities say 207 police departments and agencies will receive more than $1 million in grants for additional forces and overtime pay to issue tickets. During last year’s campaign, more than 13,000 tickets were issued for cell phone usage alone.

In the Palmetto State, where South Carolinians were involved in more than 19,000 crashes related to distracted driving last year, a new bill is on the table. Like its western neighbor, Georgia, the bill would make South Carolina a hands-free state. Currently, the bill is at a standstill – with opponents saying the government shouldn’t be able to tell them what they can do in the privacy of their own vehicles. However, proponents respond by saying driving is a privilege, not a right.

In the state of Washington, more than 150 law enforcement agencies are adding extra patrols in April to be on the lookout for distracted driving. The hope is that heightened awareness of law enforcement will convey to drivers just how serious this issue is. First-time violators will be charged a hefty $136 for their first offense, while subsequent offenses start at $234.

Changes Are Coming

We aren’t yet at a point where we can discuss distracted driving in the past tense – and we likely never will be – but major changes are coming. From South Carolina and Florida to New Jersey, Washington, Massachusetts, and dozens of states in between, distracted driving is firmly within the crosshairs of local governments and law enforcement – and that’s a good thing.

At this point, the biggest issue is whether or not drivers will comply out of a willingness to cooperate, or if they’ll be forced into submission as a result of stiff consequences. Either way, changes are coming, and safer roads are an inevitable part of the future.

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn’t know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.