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Distracted Driving Laws, Education and Enforcement

Distracted driving occurs when a driver undertakes any activity that diverts attention away from driving. Distractions can include using cell phones or other hand-held devices, talking with passengers, eating or drinking, reading, adjusting the radio, or using a navigation system while driving. According to U.S. DOT, in 2012, 3,328 people were killed in distracted driving crashes in the United States. Establishing laws that restrict the use of cell phones and other hand-held devices while driving, enforcing those laws in highly-visible campaigns, and educating drivers about the laws and their importance could result in positive health benefits. NHTSA’s Blueprint for Ending Distracted Driving includes strategies for raising awareness, strengthening enforcement, and reducing distracted driving. These efforts might improve safety, although further evidence is needed to prove their effectiveness.

Related Transportation and Heath Tool Indicators

How can this strategy result in health benefits?

  • Improve safety
  • Reduce motor vehicle-related injuries and fatalities

How has this worked in practice?

High-Visibility Enforcement Waves in Connecticut and New York Reduce Hand-held Phone Use

NHTSA conducted distracted driving demonstration programs over the course of 1 year in two communities (Hartford, Connecticut, and Syracuse, New York). The programs tested whether high-visibility enforcement (HVE) could reduce driver use of hand-held cell phones to talk or text while driving. The programs were coordinated with the Connecticut Department of Transportation and the New York Department of Motor Vehicles and involved the participation of state and local law enforcement. The HVE efforts were conducted in four waves during the year and included dedicated enforcement efforts, and media campaigns. Evaluations were conducted before and after each HVE wave, using observed cell phone use and surveys to gauge awareness and measure self-reported cell phone use. Observed use of hand-held cell phones by drivers dropped from 6.8% to 2.9% in Hartford and from 3.7% to 2.5% in Syracuse. Observed driver manipulation of cell phones to dial or text dropped from 3.9% to 1.1% in Hartford and from 2.8% to 1.9% in Syracuse. Overall, Hartford and Syracuse drivers surveyed were aware of the enforcement and messaging campaigns, with the main message, “Phone in One Hand, Ticket in the Other,” garnering the most recognition.

Where can I learn more?

Distraction.gov is the official government resource focused on distracted driving and includes statistics about crashes involving distracted drivers, what is being done by the U.S. DOT to address distracted driving, and actions targeted to specific audiences, including businesses and organizations, teens and parents.

Governor’s Highway Safety Association provides information about distracted driving laws in each state and whether crash data in each state track distracted driving.

The CDC Distracted Driving website shows statistics and other resources related to distracted driving, crashes, and risk factors.

County Health Rankings and Road Maps includes information on methods for making communities healthier, including a description of the connection between strong enforcement of distracted driving laws and health.

The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials’ Policy Guide: Improving transportation safety provides information on methods to reduce motor vehicle-related crashes, including opportunities to decrease distracted driving.

Evidence base

Cazzulino F, Burke RV, Muller V, Arbogast H, Upperman JS. Cell phones and young drivers: a systematic review regarding the association between psychological factors and prevention. Traffic Injury Prevention 2014;15(3):234–42.

Chaudhary N, Casanova-Powell T, Cosgrove L, Reagan I, Williams A. Evaluation of NHTSA distracted driving demonstration projects in Connecticut and New York. Washington, DC: NHTSA, U.S. DOT. DOT HS 811 635; 2012.

Cosgrove L, Chaudhary N, Roberts S. High visibility enforcement demonstration programs in Connecticut and New York reduce hand-held phone use. Washington, DC: NHTSA, U.S. DOT. DOT HS 811 376; 2010.

McCartt AT, Hellinga LA, Strouse LM, Farmer CM. Long-term effects of handheld cell phone laws on driver handheld cell phone use. Traffic Injury Prevention. 2010;11(2):133–41.

Naumann RB, Dellinger AM. Mobile Device Use While Driving – United States and Seven European Countries, 2011. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 2013;62(10):177-182.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Driver electronic device use in 2011. Washington, DC: NHTSA, U.S. DOT; 2013.

Strayer DL, Cooper JM, Turrill J, Coleman J, Medeiros-Ward N, Biondi F. Measuring Cognitive Distraction in the Automobile. Washington, DC: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety; 2013.

Tison J, Chaudhary N, Cosgrove L. National Phone Survey on Distracted Driving Attitudes and Behaviors Washington, DC: NHTSA, U.S. DOT. DOT HS 811 855; 2011.

Updated: Monday, October 26, 2015
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