Distracted Driving Update

This December 13, 2011 recommendation by the National Transportation Safety Board “for the first-ever nationwide ban on driver use of personal electronic devices (PEDs) while operating a motor vehicle” put distracted driving back in the national spotlight.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) generally defines distracted driving as any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving. It classifies distracted driving behavior as:

  • Visual - taking your eyes off the road.
  • Manual - taking your hands off the wheel.
  • Cognitive - taking your mind off what you’re doing.

Examples include:

  • Texting (NHTSA released this sample [State] Ban on Texting While Driving Law in Feb. 2010)
  • Using a cell phone or smartphone
  • Eating and drinking
  • Talking to passengers
  • Grooming
  • Reading, including maps
  • Using a navigation system
  • Watching a video
  • Adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player

The states introduced many bills in recent years to address distracted driving. Those ranged from restricting drivers under the age of 18 from engaging in certain activities to restricting certain behaviors such as texting while operating a motor vehicle and prohibiting the use of products that require the driver to excessively remove their hands from the steering wheel. For example, Colorado Chapter Law 375 of 2009 prohibits people under 18 years old from using a wireless telephone while operating a motor vehicle. It also prohibits people 18 years of age and older from using a wireless telephone to send text messages while operating a motor vehicle. Maryland Chapter Law 194 of 2009 reads “A person may not use a text messaging device to write, send, or read or send a text message while operating a motor vehicle in motion or in the travel portion of the roadway.” Maine Chapter Law 446 of 2009 takes a broad approach. It defines ‘operating a motor vehicle while distracted’ as “The operation of a motor vehicle by a person who, while operating the vehicle, is engaged in an activity that is not necessary to the operation of the vehicle, and that actually impairs, or would reasonably be expected to impair, the ability of the person to safely operate the vehicle.”

NHTSA maintains a summary of state distracted driving laws and related information at Distraction.gov

The Governors Highway Safety Association provides information about state cell phones and text messaging laws.