From day one, safety has been my top priority at the Department of Transportation, which is why I am so committed to ending the deadly – and entirely preventable – epidemic of distracted driving.
To succeed, we need a combination of good laws, effective enforcement, education, and awareness, and we need everyone to take personal responsibility for driving safely.
DOT is working very hard to promote these elements of our national anti-distracted driving effort, and we think we’re beginning to see a change. In just the last year, public awareness has grown, 12 more states have passed distraction laws, and we’ve recorded major drops in distracted driving in Hartford, CT and Syracuse, NY where we are testing enforcement programs.
But some – or at least one – have questioned whether these gains are important and whether our efforts are actually making a difference. And their position flies in the face of common sense, crash fatality statistics, and academic research.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety claims state distracted driving laws are pointless because, in the absence of cell-phone use and texting, drivers will find other distractions. I hope readers can see why that line of reasoning is ridiculous. By that logic, we should throw all our safety laws out the window.
Rather than throwing our hands up in the air, we’re going to tackle the problem head on. And we know we can change behavior through good education and enforcement. That combination was effective in curbing drunk driving, and it was effective in encouraging seatbelt use. The success of these two safety campaigns provide us with a strong model for putting an end to distracted driving.
Indeed, we learned at our recent Distracted Driving Summit that enforcement of anti-distraction laws can be extraordinarily effective. Captain Shannon Trice of the Syracuse Police Department indicated that his department's pilot high-visibility enforcement program reduced cell phone use by 38% and texting behind the wheel by 42%. And Hartford's numbers--56% decline in cell use and 68% decline in texting--are even better.
And, if we can get more states to adopt these high-visibility enforcement techniques--the same way police departments across America have used drunk driving enforcement efforts to increase compliance--we will see anti-distraction laws become more effective.
Yet the IIHS would rather we apply our resources only to develop better crash avoidance technology for vehicles to compensate for inattentive driving. Now, I'm all for developing collision warning systems and crash-avoidance technology, but that can only do so much Right now, at 70 miles per hour, a computer chip cannot safely stop a 2,000 pound vehicle whose driver does not see the line of nine cars stopped 50 feet ahead.
Distracted driving is a dangerous problem that we cannot ignore, and as long as I am the Secretary of Transportation, I’m going to make the safety of our highways, rails, and skies my first priority.