Sunday, November 22, 2009

Slamming the Brakes on Distracted Driving

The research on distracted driving is clear: using a cell phone while driving is both common and dangerous. Legislators across the nation are responding to the overwhelming evidence of the dangers of distracted driving by enacting laws restricting cellphone use while driving.

Virginia’s ban on texting went into effect on July 1. The law calls for a $20 fine for the first offense and $50 for a second offense. Washington DC was a leader in the effort to cut down on cellphone restrictions. The District banned cellphone use behind the wheel in 2004.

A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety concluded that the District’s ban and vigorous enforcement of the law have resulted in fewer people using cellphones while behind the wheel. Research shows 43 percent more drivers would be using cellphones if the law and its enforcement weren’t in place.

President Obama recently added to the area’s road safety measures by banning federal employees from texting when driving a government vehicle. They’re also not allowed to text from their own vehicles if they’re using a government-issued phone or are on government business.

Safety experts believe cellphones significantly add to distracted driving, which results in more than 600,000 crashes annually, 2,600 deaths and more than 300,000 personal injuries. The financial toll across the nation is well over $40 billion per year.

Currently, the attempts to combat texting while driving vary from one state to the next; some states have not yet addressed the topic, while other states have banned the practice entirely. However, this scattered approach may not last long. Legislation pending in both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives would encourage all states to adopt laws banning texting while driving, resulting in greater consistency across the country.

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