Over the weekend, the U.S. got one step closer to eliminating distracted driving. On October 1st, a new law banning handheld cell phone use for all drivers went into effect in Nevada, making it the 9th state, along with DC and the Virgin Islands, to do so.
At an event on the steps of the Nevada State Capitol in Carson City on Thursday, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland, Governor Brian Sandoval, and a group of Nevada officials all spoke with enthusiasm about the safety benefits of the new law.
“The bottom line is: it is safer for kids, safer for families to put down the cell phone when driving," said Governor Sandoval.
It's estimated that 20 percent of the 1.5 million injury crashes in 2009 involved reports of distracted driving. According to Nevada Department of Public Safety Director Chris Perry, Nevada had 50 highway fatalities involving distracted driving between 2006 and 2009.
Jenifer Watkins at the Nevada State Capitol. [Photo: Las Vegas Review-Journal]
Sadly, each of these deaths and injuries was one hundred percent preventable. And no one knows this better than Jenifer Watkins, who was on hand Thursday to celebrate the passage of a law she advocated for for years.
In January 2004, Jenifer and her husband Richard were on the freeway in Las Vegas when a 17-year-old driving a large truck struck their vehicle at 75 miles per hour. The driver was fiddling with her cell phone at the time of the crash.
Both Jenifer and Richard suffered serious head injuries in the accident. Jenifer spent over a year and a half learning how to walk and talk again. And while she still suffers many debilitating effects from the crash today, Jenifer has worked tirelessly to take her message about the dangerous consequences of cell phone use while driving to the state legislature.
So, congratulations to Nevada on taking a strong stance against the epidemic of distracted driving. I hope other states will continue to follow in its footsteps so that we can build a safer future together.