Distracted Driving: A Clear and Present Danger

Distracted driving kills people just like impaired (drunk) driving does. Thousands of people each year are killed by distracted drivers.   

There are a lot of ways people can be distracted while driving... it happens anytime you take your eyes off the road.   Any non-driving activity is a distraction that increases your chances of crashing and hurting or killing yourself, your passengers or other drivers.

Let's face the facts.  Our cell phones are an increasing part of our lives whether we want to admit it or not.  It seems perfectly natural to pick up your smart phone and check email or texts or other social media, like twitter.  Sometimes we do it while driving, like at a stop light - when the main problem is not seeing that the light has turned green and the driver behind you honks at you to get going.  You make it through the light but the guy behind you doesn't.  That's a harmless irritation.

But sometimes people check their phones while they're actually driving- and that's what's lethal.  Sending or reading a text or checking or social media takes your eyes off the road for at least 5 seconds.  At 55 mph, that's like driving the length of an entire football field, blindfolded.  Here's another point of view.  Texting while driving increases your risk of crashing by 23% and slows your reaction time to an equivalent of a 0.1% blood alcohol level- which is legally drunk.  Does that sound safe to you?  Probably not, but chances are you've done it.  It's super dangerous, but most of us don't recognize how dangerous it is.  

Luckily, the National Traffic and Highway Safety Administration (NTHSA) tracks data regarding distracted driving…  allowing  elected officials to have some data with which to make public policy regarding texting or social media and driving.  Here’s a quick factoid from the mounds of data they have: In 2014, there were a total of almost 30,000 fatal crashes in the U.S. and about 10% (3,000) of those fatal crashes involved distracted drivers.

So, now we know that distracted driving is a clear and present danger.  The question is what should we do about it in terms of public policy?  There are all kinds of social media and other messaging out there discouraging distracted driving.  That might work for some folks, but let's face it, sometimes there needs to be more at risk for people to take things seriously.  That's where distracted driving laws come in.

NTHSA also tracks what the state laws are that address distracted driving.  You can visit their State Laws page to what the laws are in the various states.  Currently, 46 states ban text messaging for all drivers.  Forty one of those even have primary enforcement, meaning that law enforcement folks can pull you over for violating thedistracted driving law.  

Of the 4 states without an all driver texting ban (Arizona is one of those 4) , 2 at least prohibit texting by novice drivers.  In Arizona, the only restriction applies to school bus drivers.  Montana doesn't even prohibit school bus drivers from texting. 

Over the years Arizona lawmakers have introduced bills that tried to put a little muscle into distracted driving laws, to no avail.  This year there’s increasing optimism that AZ might actually be able to pass a law that deals with distracted driving  because of the makeup of the new legislature.  

Here are the bills that have been introduced:

SB1086   Sentencing; aggravating factor; texting

SB1087   Wireless communication device; driving; prohibition

SB1088   Vehicles; collisions; injury; texting; penalty

Here at AZPHA, we've expressed public support for SB 1086, 1087, and 1088, all of which move the ball forward.  Our state legislature actually makes it pretty easy to stay engaged and track the progress of various bills. If you'd like to see bills like these be successful, you can track their progress online.

Interested in adding your voice and learning more about how you can make a difference?  You could always join AZPHA and participate in our Public Policy Committee which continually tracks and advocates for bills like these that enhance public health in Arizona.

Interested in learning more about distracted driving generally?  Check our NTHSA's website on distracted driving.