Cross-posted from National Journal's Transportation Experts blog
This week the Department of Transportation hosts our second national Distracted Driving Summit. This summit brings together transportation experts, safety advocates, law enforcement officials, industry representatives, academic researchers, and distracted driving victims.
We're hosting this summit because there is important work to be done. In 2009, as indicated by data I shared with the Orlando Sentinel yesterday, distracted driving-related crashes caused at least 5,500 deaths in the U.S. and upward of 450,000 injuries.
And, because many police departments do not routinely document distraction factors in their crash reporting, I think it's safe to say these numbers are only the tip of the iceberg.
But once you've met the victims and the loved ones left behind by this dangerous behavior, it gets even worse. Because then you understand that we are not talking about numbers, but about lives being broken and people being killed in crashes that are 100% preventable.
You can watch this video clip from ABC's Good Morning America to see what I mean.
At the summit, panelists will take stock of the progress we've made in our fight to end this deadly epidemic. And we will reassess the challenges and opportunities ahead.
The challenges? Those are probably familiar to most of us. Americans are hooked on multi-tasking. We are. We're hooked on our devices and we can't put them down, even when it means jeopardizing our own safety and the safety of others.
And we have young people texting habitually long before they learn to drive who then can't even imagine turning off their devices when they climb behind the wheel.
But the opportunities are promising. First, we have 30 states that have outlawed texting behind the wheel, and eight of those states have banned all handheld phone use while driving.
We also have seen a tremendous wave of grassroots. People like Kari Galassi and Jodi Brubaker, who began distributing yellow "Get off the phone!" car window signs in their Hinsdale, Illinois, community. Or the group of high school students from Sanford, Florida, who formed Reynolds' Right Hands to raise awareness about distracted driving after their teacher Christy Reynolds was killed last year. Across the nation, we've seen a groundswell of support and advocacy whether in communities and workplaces or on Facebook and Twitter.
In addition to these preventive developments, we can add some encouraging news from the enforcement side of the safety equation.
Our pilot programs with police departments in Syracuse and Hartford are reporting that high-visibility enforcement combined with stepped-up public service announcements has resulted in declines in driver cell phone use of 38% in Syracuse and 56% in Hartford. The data on texting in those cities is even more impressive with texting down 42% in Syracuse and a very promising 68% in Hartford.
I can't emphasize the importance of these results enough because many state legislators have opposed texting and cell phone bans for drivers on the grounds that they can't be enforced. Our ongoing pilot programs may be demonstrating otherwise.
These positive trends are grounds for hope, but they don't mean we can relent. Rather, they tell me that now is the time to leverage this momentum by redoubling our efforts to end this deadly practice and persuade people to take the personal responsibility for safety that comes with a driver's license.
This week, I'm hoping the panelists at our Distracted Driving Summit will help point those efforts in a productive direction.