The use of cell phones while driving has made the nation’s roads more dangerous: nearly half of all drivers admit to texting while driving. With more than 30 states passing distracted driving laws, Congress is now considering enacting a national texting ban.
The Distracted Driving Prevention Act would offer grants to states that ban handheld cell phone use and texting for all drivers and that completely ban the use of cell phones by any drivers under 18 years of age. The bill, if approved, would also provide funding for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to provide education and public campaigns about the dangers of cell phone use and texting while driving.
The bill would also designate the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to collect and review information on all wireless devices to assess alternatives to mitigate the inherent dangers of texting while driving.
The $94 million program is working its way through Congress and is before the Senate for a vote.
The Statistics: Distracted Driving
A Pew Research study found that 47 percent of all drivers admit to texting. And half of teenagers from 12 to 17 years of age say they have been a passenger of a car with a driver who is texting behind the wheel.
According to the NHTSA, a 21 percent of all car crashes resulting in injury were the result of distracted driving. Statistics of resulting fatalities are sobering: almost 6,000 people have died and more than half-a-million were injured in accidents in 2008 caused by distracted driving.
Researchers in a 2009 Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study found that the average person who texts while driving averts his eyes from the road for 4.5 to 6 seconds – essentially driving the length of a football field at 55 mph without looking up once.
Texting Bans at the State Level: A Look at Texas
Many states have been slow to implement their own texting bans. Only 31 have banned texting while driving – and many of those laws were enacted since the beginning of 2010. Currently, Texas bans handheld cell phone use and texting for teen drivers who have been driving less than a year. Texas also bans use of handheld phones and texting for all drivers when in school zones.
To get the remaining states on board, and to encourage those that have banned texting to keep their laws on the books, the federal bill, if approved, will not force states to enact bans. Instead, it will provide a financial lure to help with the decision-making. If the Distracted Driving Prevention Act were to pass, Texas would have financial incentive to step up its distracted driving laws and extend its current laws to all drivers, regardless of age and past driving experience.