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Organizations and Law Enforcement Cracking Down on Distracted Driving

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In 2015, the Washington Times called distracted driving an “epidemic in America,” adding that every day, people “are killed and injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver.”

In 2013, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that 660,000 drivers used cell phones or other electronic devices while driving at any given moment—despite warnings that this sort of behavior increases risk of crashes, injuries, and death. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stated: “Distracted driving is a serious and deadly epidemic on America’s roadways.”

According to “End Distracted Driving (EDD),” talking on a cell phone quadruples your risk of an accident—about the same as drunk driving—and if you’re texting, that risk doubles again.

Awareness is increasing. Most of us know now that using a phone or other gadget while behind the wheel is a dangerous undertaking. Statistics show that people are still doing it, though, despite the risks. According to an NHTSA 2012 report, four out of five young drivers admit that texting while driving affects their driving performance, yet over 70 percent continue to drive while texting.

Meanwhile, innocent victims are getting hurt. In May 2013, Texas resident Bobby Crouch was biking along Barton Creek Boulevard when he was struck by a distracted driver. His back was broken in the accident, and two-and-a-half years later, he was still struggling with recovery, and still going through chronic pain.

EDD and other organizations are working to reduce the number of these types of accidents by continuing to raise awareness and generate action against distracted drivers.

Organizations Working to Increase Awareness

Teens in the Driver Seat (TDS) is another organization striving to change the behavior of younger drivers. A national education program, they are launching their “Zero Crazy!” activity in the spring of 2016. The program is designed to last 9 weeks. In the first three, teens are encouraged to observe any “crazy” drivers in their area that may be driving distracted. In the second three weeks, they do “some mad, crazy activities” around their schools to increase awareness of the risks of distracted driving. The last three weeks are devoted to measuring the results of those activities.

At the end of the program, participating teams send their observations to TDS and receive a $100 gift card in return. Each school also receives a report indicating how they did compared to other schools.

Drive Smart Virginia,” a non-profit organization working to improve the safety of the roadways of the Commonwealth, works to create educational campaigns to convince drivers to keep their minds on the road. They note that eight out of 10 crashes in Virginia are related to a distracted driving incident.

Stepping Up Enforcement of Distracted Driving Laws

Local police are getting involved, too. In Michigan, at the end of 2015, state police redesigned the standard report used by those who respond to crashes. Starting this year, the reports will have a designated place where the officer can note precisely what distraction (if any) was a factor in the crash.

In Massachusetts, lawmakers are considering a new law that would ban all cellphone use while driving, unless the driver is using a hands-free device. (Current law bans only text messaging for adults over the age of 18.)

This is only just the tip of the iceberg. States continue to reexamine the laws on the books—14 already have laws prohibiting hand-held cell phones while driving. A total of 38 ban all cell phone use by novice drivers, and 46 states have banned text messaging for all drivers.

The NHTSA has planned a number of activities for the National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, which is coming up in April. The agency will also run again its enforcement campaign called “U Drive. U Text. U Pay,” which will include a national media outreach to increase awareness, combined with the support of state highway safety offices and law enforcement.

Those who have been hurt in a crash involving a distracted driver, or who lost loved ones in similar crashes, may be eligible to file a personal injury lawsuit. Bicyclist Bobby Crouch has filed claims against the driver that hit him and broke his back. His case went to trial on Monday, January 24, 2016.