Efforts to combat distracted driving heat up

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The new information in this survey also indicates that many drivers are either in denial about their DWD habits or resistant to changing their behavior. This suggests that legislation may not be enough to eliminate distracted driving and highlights the need for a technological solution that can prevent cell phone usage in moving vehicles while still allowing people to stay connected.” –Bill Windsor, chief safety officer, Nationwide Insurance

Efforts are increasing to stop a wide group of behaviors lumped into the catch-all phrase “driving while distracted,” more broadly known as “DWD,” but according to a recent survey, it’s going to be an uphill struggle at best.

Nationwide Insurance noted that in its most recent On Your Side survey – conducted by Harris Interactive via its National Quorum telephone polling service – that 80% of Americans favor a ban on texting while driving, while two thirds favor a ban on cell phone calls and more than half said they would support a ban on cell phone use altogether behind the wheel.

Ah, but the devil is in the details as the old saying goes. The survey – conducted between Aug. 5 and 9 this year, among a nationwide cross section of 1,008 adults aged 18 and over – discovered that those polled say they are witnessing a growth in distracted driving behavior on the roads, with more than half noting they see more drivers using cell phones while driving than they did 12 months ago and nearly three-quarters pointing out that when they drive, they always or often see other drivers using cell phones.

Yet these same folks may be in serious denial about their own cell phone use behind the wheel. Nationwide said nearly half (49%) of drivers polled in the survey said a law restricting use of cell phones would not change their behavior because they don’t currently use cell phones while driving. “But when you compare this statistic to Nationwide’s 2008 DWD survey, which revealed that more than 80% of drivers admit to talking on their cell phone while driving, it may be the case that some drivers are either in denial or too embarrassed to admit their DWD problem,” noted Bill Windsor, Nationwide’s chief safety officer.

Then there’s resistance to new laws governing DWD behavior, as 18% of the survey’s respondents that admit to using their cell phones while driving say they would continue to do so regardless of a change in law, with Generation Y most likely to resist the change (26%).

Despite that push back, though, Nationwide said it remains firm in its support of the concept of a national ban on texting while driving – primarily because such laws could save lives by reducing DWD related crashes and thus lower insurance costs for consumers.

“DWD impacts all of us in one form or another and Nationwide will continue to raise public awareness about this important issue,” said Windsor. “By working closely with legislators, public safety officials and other key stakeholders we can arrive at real-world solutions to this problem and help make the roads a safer place.”

State governors are also paying much closer attention to this issue, with the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) recently enacting a new policy encouraging every state to ban texting behind the wheel for all drivers.

“The action by the GHSA membership is based on the fact that texting while driving is indisputably a distraction and a serious highway safety problem,” noted GHSA Chairman Vernon F. Betkey Jr. “If every state passes a texting ban, it will send a message to the public that this dangerous practice is unacceptable. We can begin to change the culture that has permitted distracted driving.”

Betkey noted that the recent study from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute that indicated a driver who is texting increases crash or near-crash risk by 23 times influenced the GHSA membership’s action. However, successfully enforcing text messaging bans remains the tricky part, Betkey stressed, and hoped more information on how to do so successfully may come from a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) DWD enforcement demonstration project later this year.

"In the past, there were challenges enforcing seat belt and drunk driving laws. However, the research and highway safety communities collectively worked together and developed successful enforcement programs like Click It or Ticket,” added GHSA Vice Chairman Lowell Porter. “I am confident that we can do the same thing with texting bans [and] GHSA's new policy will help move this process along.”

We’ll see how this theory plays out in the months ahead.

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