Distracted Driving

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As of mid-April, 12 U.S. states had general statutory bans on drivers’ use of handheld cellphones, including Illinois in the Midwest, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. In each of these 12 states, this traffic violation is a primary offense: Law enforcement can stop a driver because of the cellphone use and issue a citation.
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South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard in March signed legislation to make his state the 43rd one to ban texting while driving. The new law, which will take effect July 1, prohibits drivers from using any handheld wireless device to write, send or read text messages or emails while the vehicle is in motion.

Distracted driving, which includes texting while driving, is a significant public safety concern for state leaders and law enforcement. Although 43 states and the District of Columbia have passed bans that prohibit texting while driving, driver distraction is a leading factor in nearly one-fifth of all fatal crashes.

In 2007, Washington became the first state to ban texting while driving. Seven years later, 43 states and the District of Columbia have passed bans. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, driver distraction is a leading factor in many crashes and texting is one of the most common distractions.

Leaders of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee announced this week they have agreed in principle on how to proceed with the next federal surface transportation authorization bill, the successor to 2012’s MAP-21. I also have the usual roundup of links on the future of the Highway Trust Fund, state activity on transportation revenues, public-private partnerships and tolling and state multi-modal strategies.

April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month and we have a new Capitol Research brief just out looking at “Enforcement of Texting While Driving Bans.” It examines the state of anti-texting statutes and recent legislative efforts around the country, as well as the efforts of law enforcement to assess strategies for catching texters in the act. But here’s a roundup of some additional related resources from around the web.

Laws in forty-two states, the District of Columbia, Guam and the Virgin Islands prohibit texting behind the wheel by all drivers. The eight states without such laws have all seen efforts in recent years to follow suit. Four of the states with texting bans have secondary enforcement statutes requiring an officer to catch the driver in another traffic offense. Two of those states have seen legislation introduced this year to move up to primary enforcement, where an officer can ticket a driver solely for texting while driving. But even as states are trying to crack down on texting, some in law enforcement question the degree to which such laws can be enforced and the degree to which they can be successful. 

I have a new Capitol Research brief out this week looking at Autonomous Vehicle Legislation. It examines how states like Michigan are preparing for the advent of self-driving cars and what kinds of legislative issues state governments are going to need to think about down the road as the industry gets going over the next decade. I encourage you to check it out. But I also wanted to pass along a variety of other resources where you can read more on the subject.

Autonomous vehicles—self-driving cars—hold the promise to one day change the very nature of travel in the United States. For the moment, they remain mostly in the realm of science fiction, although significant developments are expected over the next decade. In 2013, Michigan became the latest state - joining California, Florida, Nevada and the District of Columbia - to enact legislation to allow automakers and others to continue to conduct autonomous vehicle research. But even as the industry and states contemplate a future for such vehicles beyond the research and development stage, some question whether these types of legislation may be premature while we still know so little about exactly what that future will look like.

Distracted driving is a national epidemic, claiming thousands of lives on American roads every year. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2011. This complimentary webinar, presented by CSG South, featured panelists who addressed the latest research on the potential impact of using devices while driving, state legislative initiatives to hone distracted driving laws and updates on efforts at the federal level to reduce distracted driving accidents.

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