NHTSA: Enforcement deters distracted driving

Posted on July 12, 2011

Increased law enforcement coupled with high-profile public education campaigns resulted in dramatic reductions in distracted driving during pilot programs held in Syracuse, N.Y., and Hartford, Conn., according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) researchers.

Each program, which was supported by $200,000 in federal funds and $100,000 from the state, examined whether increased police enforcement along with paid advertising and news media coverage could reduce distracted driving. The pilot efforts used "Phone in One Hand, Ticket in the Other" as the media campaign theme and were structured similarly to the highly-successful national seat belt campaign, "Click It or Ticket."

During four periods of stepped up enforcement over the past year, Syracuse police issued 9,587 citations for driver violations involving talking or texting on cell phones while operating a vehicle. During the same period, police in Hartford, Conn., issued 9,658 tickets for illegal phone use.
Before and after each enforcement wave, NHTSA actively observed cell phone use and conducted public awareness surveys at driver licensing offices in the two cities, which found:

  • In Syracuse, N.Y., because of high-visibility enforcement, both handheld cell phone use and texting behind the wheel have declined by one-third.
  • In Hartford, Conn., where researchers initially identified drivers talking on their cell phones at twice the frequency (which left more room for improvement), there was a 57 percent drop in handheld use and texting behind the wheel dropped by nearly three-quarters.

"The success of these pilot programs clearly show that combining strong laws with strong enforcement can bring about a sea change in public attitudes and behavior," said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. "We applaud the work of the men and women of the Syracuse and Hartford police forces, and call on state legislatures, law enforcement and safety advocates across the nation to follow their lead."

NHTSA plans to test this same three-part formula — tough laws, strong enforcement, and ongoing public awareness — at the state-wide level next.

In 2009, nearly 5,500 fatalities and another half million injuries resulted from crashes involving a distracted driver. Overall, distraction-related fatalities represented 16 percent of total traffic fatalities in 2009.

Nationwide, 34 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam have enacted texting bans. Nine states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands have prohibited all hand-held cell phone use while driving.

Click here to see the NHTSA report on the enforcement programs in Syracuse and Hartford.

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