Distracted Driving

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.

There are now more cellphone subscriptions than people in the United States.  Cell phones were involved in 23 percent of all automobile collisions in 2011 contributing to the 3,331 distracted driving deaths that year. Since the first texting ban was issued in Washington State in 2007, 40 other states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have initiated laws banning texting while driving. As a part of MAP-21, the 2012 surface transportation authorization legislation, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) administers a grant program to states which have such bans. The grants are not a sure thing for states however; of the 38 applicants, the DOT reported earlier this month that only 7 states and Guam will receive funding this year.

The tech industry waited with bated breath last year as rumors formed surrounding tech giant Google’s anticipated release of a hands-free computer which could fit in a pair of glasses and project information into consumers eyes. The product, Google Glass, launched a kind of beta version in May allowing a limited number of “explorers” to test drive the product as the bugs are worked out. The product received mixed reviews from the tech world and met with privacy concerns once some individuals realized that they could be filmed without their knowledge thanks to the technology. Now as some automakers are attempting to integrate Google Glass into the operation of certain vehicles, some state lawmakers are considering banning the technology from  the nation’s roads.

Distracted driving killed more than 3,000 people in 2011, accounting for ten percent of traffic related deaths in the U.S. The high death toll has sparked an increase in laws that crack down on elements related to distracted driving, such as texting or using a handheld device. Despite the strict laws, 31 percent of U.S. drivers ages 18-64 reported reading or sending a text message or email while driving at least once within 30 days of the responding to the survey. States are now focusing on new strategies to combat distracted driving. 

As they age, seniors face many transportation challenges. There are numerous ways state governments can help meet these challenges both for seniors who are still behind the wheel and for those who are no longer able to drive. They include policies to make road and pedestrian infrastructure safer, improve access to public transportation and better coordinate limited transportation resources.