Distracted Driving: What are the rules and what can you do to prevent a tragedy?

Distracted driving is becoming a big, and dangerous, problem on our roadways. It’s not uncommon to see cars drifting in and out of lanes or braking erratically because the driver is texting or talking on the phone. According to the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Distraction.gov, in 2010 over 400,000 people were injured and over 3,000 killed in accidents that involved a distracted driver. 

What laws exist in regard to texting and driving, distracted driving? 

Handheld devices used by drivers is banned in ten states and Washington D.C.: 

  • California;
  • Connecticut;
  • Delaware;
  • Maryland;
  • Nevada;
  • New Jersey;
  • New York;
  • Oregon;
  • Washington; and
  • West Virginia. 

In all but Maryland and West Virginia, a police officer may cite a driver for this offense even in the absence of other traffic violations. However, West Virginia’s rules will change in summer 2013. 

In 39 states, text messaging while driving is banned. Three other states have banned school bus drivers from texting and driving. Many cities and counties have also enacted their own specific rules and laws regarding distracted driving.   

While some drivers may lament these laws and insist that they can drive and use their cellphones safely – the numbers, cited by the DOT, say otherwise: 

  • 18 percent of injury crashes in 2010 were attributed to distracted driving;
  • using a cell phone while driving reduces brain activity focuses on driving by 37 percent;
  • you are four times more likely to be in an injury crash if you are using a cell phone;
  • you are 23 times more likely to be involved in a traffic crash if texting and driving; and
  • young drivers lead the way with 11 percent of those under 20 who were in fatal crashes were said to be distracted when in the accident. 

While you can’t always control the actions of other drivers, there are some steps you can take to practice safe driving and cellphone use: 

  • only make calls or use your phone when the car is not in motion;
  • never use the phone when driving in heavy traffic or bad weather;
  • pull over to make a call or compose or read a text message; and
  • talk with teen drivers about the dangers of texting and talking while driving and establish rules – revoke car privileges if these rules are not followed. 

It’s up to everyone to work together to end this dangerous problem. By following the laws and advocating for safer driving practices in your community, you can make a difference. 

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