The U.S. Transportation Department kicked off the first-ever national distracted driving awareness month, and will fund nationwide advertising and law enforcement on texting and other dangerous behavior behind the wheel.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx launched the new ad campaign “U Drive. U Text. U Pay”. The ad campaign will run from April 7-15, which coincides with a nationwide law enforcement crackdown in states with distracted driving bans.
The new ad shows a young woman behind the wheel who is texting and talking to friends when she is involved a graphic crash with a large truck after she runs a stop sign. The badly damaged car rolls down a hill and a police officer says if he had written her a ticket she might still be alive.
“This campaign puts distracted driving on par with our efforts to fight drunk driving or to encourage seatbelt use,” Foxx said. “Across the country, we’re putting distracted drivers on notice: If you’re caught texting while driving, the message you receive won’t be from your cell phone, but from law enforcement — U Drive. U Text. U Pay.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 3,328 people were killed and an estimated 421,000 were injured in distraction-related crashes in 2012. The campaign will run in English and Spanish and also on the radio.
The $8.5 million national advertising campaign supports the first-ever national distracted driving high-visibility enforcement crackdown, which will run from April 10 to April 15, 2014. Thousands of law enforcement personnel nationwide will use traditional and new strategies to crack down on motorists who text and drive.
A challenge for law enforcement is determining if drivers are texting — requiring the use of unmarked cars and spotters to find drivers who are not paying attention.
“National campaigns like ‘Click It or Ticket’ and local efforts like ‘Phone in One Hand. Ticket in the Other’ show that combining good laws with effective enforcement and strong public education campaigns can — and do — change unsafe driving behaviors,” said NHTSA Acting Administrator David Friedman. “We will continue to work with our federal, state, and local partners to urge drivers to put down electronic devices and focus on the task of driving.”
NHTSA said over three enforcement waves, California police issued more than 10,700 tickets for violations involving drivers talking or texting on cell phones, and Delaware police issued more than 6,200 tickets. Hand-held cell phone use dropped by about one-third at each site, from 4.1 percent to 2.7 percent in California, and from 4.5 percent to 3 percent in Delaware, according to observational data.
Currently, 43 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands ban text messaging for drivers of all ages — including Michigan. Separately, 12 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit drivers of all ages from using hand-held cell phones while driving. Michigan is not one of them.
Michigan and 36 other states do ban cell phone use by novice drivers.
In 2013, the number of Michigan drivers who admit they text while driving doubled to 1 in 6, according to a statewide phone survey conducted for the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning.
A law on Michigan’s books since 2010 prohibits drivers from reading, typing or sending text messages while driving. Yet 16.3 percent of drivers who were surveyed admitted to texting and emailing while driving — twice the percentage of 2012.
Michigan’s law provides for a $100 fine for a first offense and $200 for repeat offenses. The Michigan State Police have used unmarked cars to ticket people who are texting or emailing.
The survey also found nearly 59 percent of Michigan motorists admit to making and accepting phone calls while driving, an increase from 56 percent of drivers in 2012, and 31 percent of drivers admitted to looking at incoming text messages and emails, an increase from 17 percent in 2012.
The Obama administration has been trying to crack down on the practice. Last April, the U.S. Transportation Department issued long-delayed guidelines intended to discourage carmakers from installing devices that allow drivers to text from behind the wheel or linger over touch-screens.
Last year, NHTSA officials found driver behavior with cellphones isn’t diminishing significantly, despite state laws. They want to ban drivers from making hand-held and hands-free calls. A 2010 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety also found that texting bans haven’t reduced crashes.
In 2011, the National Transportation Safety Board urged NHTSA to ban nearly all hands-free calls behind the wheel. Foxx said the department will continue to study the issue, but the Obama administration has declined to endorse the NTSB proposal. No state has followed suit either.