Last Thursday, I blogged about misleading claims from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) disparaging the effectiveness of good laws and good enforcement in our campaign to end distracted driving.
Unfortunately, they're at it again today with another misleading "study."
The Highway Loss Data Institute, an affiliate of IIHS, is now saying that state anti-texting laws may actually "increase" the overall number of crashes statewide. There are numerous flaws with this "study," but the most obvious is that they have created a cause and effect that simply doesn't exist.
For example, we have a national law against drunk driving. People are also required to wear seat belts. But if the number of fatalities in a state goes up one year, would it now pass as "research" to say that seat belt and anti-drunk driving laws are to blame?
This "study" is also inconsistent with research that HLDI-IIHS has relied on in the past, showing that drivers are four times as likely to crash if using a handheld device while driving. What's more, they don't actually take into account whether distracted driving behavior went up or down in the four hand-picked states they looked at.
Fortunately, the Department of Transportation can help on that front, and we can prove that good laws coupled with tough enforcement can reduce deadly distracted driving behavior. In April, we launched pilot enforcement campaigns, called "Phone in One Hand, Ticket in the Other" in Hartford, CT and Syracuse, NY.
In the last six months alone, hand held cell phone use has dropped 56% in Hartford and 38% in Syracuse; and texting while driving has declined 68% in Hartford and 42% in Syracuse.
But you wouldn't know about the importance of good enforcement from reading IIHS's misleading report.
That's because they leave enforcement completely unaddressed. But we all know that good laws don't mean anything without tough enforcement.
Look, from 2005 to 2008, distraction-related fatalities as a proportion of all traffic fatalities jumped from 10% to 16%. In 2009, for the first time in four years, that percentage was stabilized. That leveling off coincided with our national anti-distracted driving campaign, other public education efforts, and an increasing number of state anti-distracted driving laws.
That tells us that--although distracted driving is still a massive epidemic--our efforts to raise public awareness, enact tough laws, and step up enforcement can make a difference and save lives.
I'm not alone in my criticism of IIHS's "study" today. It's own members have taken notice.
In a statement today, Allstate VP Joan Walker said:
"Legislation is only the first step. To have real impact, laws must be strongly enforced so that the consequence for texting while driving is a tough penalty and not the end of a life. Legislation must be combined with law enforcement and public education programs to create a real shift in changing safe driving norms.”
Motorist advocates AAA agreed:
"It is not realistic to expect that simply enacting a law to ban texting while driving will have a large, immediate impact on crash totals in a state in the first months. Well established safety research suggests changing dangerous behavior takes well written laws, strong public outreach, high-visibility enforcement, substantial penalties for violations and adequate time."
And the families who have lost loved ones to distracted driving can't afford to see our efforts undermined. As Focus Driven President Jennifer Smith said:
"We are not surprised that claims did not decrease after texting laws were implemented in these states. Texting is a compelling, maybe addicting activity. But we need to start somewhere, and texting legislation with significant penalties and strong enforcement is a great start."
The National Safety Council joined the groundswell of opposition, saying:
"Importantly, NSC disagrees with any suggestion that the narrow findings of today’s report are definitive evidence that all cell phone or texting bans do not and will not ever work."
Russ Hurd, who spoke at our Distracted Driving Summit last week about the loss of his daughter also noted the importance of the good laws-good enforcement model, saying, "We only learned not to drink and drive because it's against the law."
It's also important for people to realize that as we fight to end distracted driving and get drivers to take personal responsibility for their driving behavior--we have redoubled our road safety efforts across the board. And we have been effective so far at bringing down road fatalities.
In fact, in 2009, traffic fatalities declined to their lowest number on record. And yesterday, NHTSA released a report showing that in the first half of 2010, that downward trend of traffic fatalities continued, plummeting another 9.2%.
These numbers tell us that our efforts are saving lives. But our roads can always be safer, and you can rest assured I will continue working to put an end to distracted driving and tackling our other road safety challenges.