WASHINGTON — The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and General Motors (GM) released Thursday a new report with a singular goal: Change the social norm around distracted driving to make it completely unacceptable so all road users get home safely.
The report, which the organizations say is one of the most comprehensive examinations to date of how to reduce driver distraction, examines the extent of the problem and provides more than two dozen recommendations to help state highway safety offices (SHSOs) and their partners combat what is deemed a deadly driving behavior.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an estimated 3,142 people died in distraction-related crashes in the U.S. in 2020, the most current year for which data is available. Another estimated 400,000 people are injured each year in distracted-driving crashes. However, says a statement from GHSA and GM, the true numbers are likely much higher due to underreporting.
The most visible form of driver distraction is the use of electronic devices, but distracted driving can take many forms, including grooming, eating and even daydreaming.
A 2021 survey by AAA found that more than half of drivers (51%) admitted to texting and/or emailing on their phone while alone in a vehicle. Multiple national and state surveys indicate that distracted driving is a top road safety concern, but observational studies find that wireless device use behind the wheel is commonplace.
“Distraction is rampant on our roads. Watch the passing cars the next time you’re waiting at a crosswalk or riding in a vehicle — odds are you’ll see someone not paying full attention to the road,” said Jonathan Adkins, executive director of GHSA. “Too many drivers are quick to point the finger at others driving distracted but refuse to look in the mirror and improve their own behavior behind the wheel. Everyone must do their part to help make distracted driving socially unacceptable or inattentive drivers will continue to kill people on U.S. roads.”
The new 50-page report, Directing Drivers’ Attention: A State Highway Safety Office Roadmap for Combating Distracted Driving, examines data shortcomings and other obstacles impacting efforts to reduce distracted driving, and reviews SHSO initiatives and the challenges impacting those efforts. The report outlines 29 recommendations for the SHSOs that cover a wide range of factors that affect distracted driving, including state laws, data collection, education and public outreach, enforcement, infrastructure, safety funding sources, partnerships, and leadership.
Some of the report’s key recommendations include:
- Invest more heavily in efforts to change the traffic safety culture around distracted driving, including public education, community programs and youth engagement.
- Encourage more leadership at the federal, state and local levels to prioritize distracted driving as a safety challenge, frame distracted driving within the Safe System approach and provide more resources to combat the problem.
- Collaborate to create a new national distracted-driving advocacy organization to give voice to distracted-driving crash survivors and focus on anti-distracted driving efforts.
- Expand partnerships with insurers, technology companies, safety advocates, employers, state and local infrastructure authorities, and others to expand the breadth of distracted driving programs.
- Promote the improvement of distracted driving laws to send a clear message to drivers that distraction is unlawful and deadly, and to empower police to stop dangerous driving when they see it.
- Support equitable, high visibility enforcement of state and local distracted driving laws, but also continue to reevaluate those efforts and explore the use of new, innovative enforcement strategies, such as safety cameras that can detect and cite inattentive drivers.
- Collect more effective data about distracted driving, including new prevalence data that may be gathered by technology and corporate partners.
“General Motors is proud to have supported the Governors Highway Safety Association throughout the development of this action-oriented report,” said Regina Carto, vice president of global product safety and systems at GM. “We encourage SHSOs around the country to put some of these key recommendations into action in their communities as we work to reduce distracted driving and other unsafe behavior on the road.”
The report’s findings and recommendations will be highlighted during a webinar on June 16 featuring Russ Martin, GHSA’s senior director of policy and government relations, and Jennifer Smith, founder of StopDistractions.org. Smith, a road safety advocate, lost her mother in a distracted driving crash in 2008, when a driver who was talking on a cellphone ran a red light. Hal Garling, senior manager of corporate grantmaking for GM, will provide welcome remarks at the start of the webinar.
Through GM support, this summer GHSA will offer competitive grants to SHSOs to help them implement the recommended actions in the report. SHSOs will be encouraged to test new initiatives and/or expand successful programs, including working with survivor advocates to establish coalitions that can help put a face on the problem, advocate for stronger laws and jump-start a change in the social norm. These grant-funded distracted driving prevention activities will also serve as a model for other states and their partners seeking to expand their anti-distraction efforts.
Distracted driving and the recommendations in the new report will also be the focus of a general session expert panel discussion at the GHSA 2022 Annual Meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, September 17-21.
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