An article by Larry Copeland published in the December 8, 2011 edition of FLORIDA TODAY reports that
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says distracted driving is still under-reported, and he is urging Congress to enact a national law against texting while driving. "We have to be able to get people to understand that this is very, very dangerous behavior," he says. Distracted driving has been LaHoods signature issue. Thirty five states and the District of Columbia now have bans on texting while driving. "When we started three years ago with distracted driving, it was not on anybodys radar," he says. "Only eight states had (texting bans)."
The article goes on to state that two separate studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that bans on handheld cell phones and on texting had not reduced crashes. "While theres no question that cell phone use and especially texting by drivers is distracting, theres no evidence that laws enacted so far have cut crashes," IIHS spokesman Russ Rader says. But LaHood says that when such laws are diligently enforced as they were during National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) studies in Syracuse, N. Y., and Hartford, Conn. crashes do go down.
Meanwhile, NHTSA is changing the way it measures fatalities related to distracted driving, using a narrower, more focused definition that will enable local police officers to more accurately pinpoint distraction as a factor in crashes. Previously, among distracted driving fatalities, NHTSA listed deaths caused by careless driving or those in which a cell phone was merely present in the vehicle; those categories have been removed from its new category, "distraction affected crashes."
LaHood compares the new approach to the way NHTSA changed its methodology in 2006 on drunken driving crashes. Prior to 2006, any crash in which a driver, pedestrian or bicyclist had a blood alcohol level of .-01 or higher was an "alcohol-related crash." In 2006, the agency began using the measure "alcohol-impaired driving crashes," to include only those in which a driver or motorcyclist had a blood alcohol level of .-08 or higher.
Using the new methodology, NHTSA reports 3,092 distraction-affected crash deaths in 2010, which LaHood says cannot be compared with the 5,474 "distraction-related" fatalities in 2009. However, he says other indicators, such as the National Occupant Protection Use Survey, in which trained data collectors at random intersections actually observe drivers in their vehicles, indicate that distracted driving is still "a significant problem." That survey found that the percentage of drivers texting or visibly manipulating handheld devices
in-creased from 0.6 percent in 2009 to 0.9 percent in 2010; handheld cell phone use remained steady at 5 percent.
"Distracted driving, we believe, is still under-reported," LaHood says. LaHood also will announce that updated data shows there were 3-2,885 traffic fatalities in 2-010, the lowest level since 1-949. Early projections from NHTSA in March had found 3-2,788 road deaths. There were 1-0,228 drunken-driving deaths in 2-010, down 4.9 percent from 2-009.
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