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 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. 

 

The Data

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found the risk of crashes increases significantly when:  dialing a cell phone (odds ratio 8); reaching for a cell phone (odds ratio 7); sending or receiving text messages (odds ratio 3.9); reaching for an object other than a cell phone (odds ratio 8), and eating (odds ratio 3).  In other words, a person dialing a cell phone while driving is at an 800% increased risk of crashing.

Does that sound safe to you?  Of course not, but chances are you've done it.  It's super dangerous, but most of us don't recognize how dangerous it is.

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. 

So, 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?  Many states have made public policy decisions to reduce distracted driving from cell use- but AZ (as a state) has not been one of them so far.

Cell Use Laws

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 the distracted 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 and people under 18 in the first 6 months of their learner’s permit.  Montana doesn't even prohibit school bus drivers from texting. NTHSA 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.  

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.  

SB 1165

There have been a few cell-use bills proposed this year.  We’re supporting SB 1165, sponsored by Senator Kate Brophy McGee because it’s the most comprehensive of the bills.  It’s progressing nicely- passing through the Senate by a vote of 20-10.  It basically prohibits using a hand-held cell phone while driving with some common-sense exemptions (for example if the person is using it hands free etc). 

Violations are a civil money penalty (no driving points) with the first offense being between $75- $150 and the 2nd offense between $150 and $250.  The bill would provide a state overlay so the cell phone use laws would no longer be different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.  Warnings would be given between now and January 1, 2020- with the citations coming after that.

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.