Public Health Opinion: Washington Lawmakers seek new legislation to clampdown further on distracted driving. Will it change behavior?

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Washington State pioneered the banning of texting while driving (textWD) for all drivers in 2007 but the law has not changed behavior. Washington State Patrol (WSP) believes failure was due to loop holes in the law. Legislators want to update it to preclude accessing Facebook, social media and the internet while driving. State Senate Bill 5656 passed in January 2015 puts an end to all ambiguity. Essentially touching a phone whether the car is in motion or stationary is considered a primary offense that will be fined $124.
The CDC reports increasing fatalities and crashes due to distracted driving since 2005. Despite increasing legislation to ban all cell phone use in youth drivers in 38 states and bans on textWD in 44 states 69% and 31% of US drivers continue to talk or text respectively (underestimates prevalence as surveys are bias prone). Interventions listed in the NHTSA blueprint did not change behavior. The NHTSA although involved and having high interest, power and impact has mixed views about total bans. It was accused of withholding information. DRIVE’s controversial effort opposing bans on behalf of tech, auto and insurance industries failed whereas the views of Hands Free representing some of these stakeholders was upheld. The winning sentiment from the supporting lobby was that education only works when combined with strict enforcement.
My position is that bans fail to change behavior. The number of crashes and fatal crashes has not changed. Motor vehicle fatality data confirms that banning produces short-lived reduction of accidents with rapid return to baseline.
Washington State argues that fines and federal grants will enhance driver safety programs. But costs of stringent enforcement may threaten to mitigate earnings. WHO and CDC want further studies to assess the impact of banning on safety.
Alternate policy and strategies include: adding simulators and feedback to driving courses; incorporating new sections to driver’s education; frequent messages about gains rather than punishment; engaging all stakeholders in lobbying and legislation of insurance rebates to encourage technology use and safe habits.

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3 Responses to “Public Health Opinion: Washington Lawmakers seek new legislation to clampdown further on distracted driving. Will it change behavior?”

  1. nirupashah Says:

    Reblogged this on SBFPHC Policy Advocacy.

  2. eperttu Says:

    I agree that there needs to be a combination of education as well as more strict enforcement of laws banning cell phone use. And yes, it needs to be ALL use. It does not matter if you are texting or looking at Facebook. The bottom line is that your eyes are off the road and your thoughts are elsewhere. I especially like the addition of it being an offense even if you are stopped, like at a stoplight. It is a regularly occurrence for me to be behind someone who doesn’t go when the light turns green, because the are looking at their phone-for a long time. People who are testing for their licenses should have to go through a course on the reasons why phone use and driving is so dangerous and the potential repercussions of it, both legally and physically. Teens seem to respond best to stories that are provided or involve persons of their demographic, so these should be targeted examples. I hope that our behaviors change. The next round of questions and legislation will likely be around Google Glass forms technology and that could get even messier.

  3. lhobbswhollandnrechache1 Says:

    I am a Washington state resident and I didn’t know about this law!! I drive all around the I-5 corridor and I can tell you I am not the only one that doesn’t know about this law. I would estimate at least once a day some one is either oblivious to the light in front of them changing or they roll up on someone on the road and are almost in their back seat before they realize that they should lift their head and eyes off the screen. There are plenty of circumstances of “distracted driving” that can possibly end in trauma – texting, eating, talking on the phone, pet on the drivers lap, passengers in the car that are bothersome to the driver, etc. It makes me crazy and scares me. However, I have an old car and I don’t necessarily know where I am going all the time, the GPS on my phone is very helpful in that respect. Further, as a medical provider it is not uncommon to get phone calls regarding patients at any time of the day, to include my drive home after a long day in the clinic. What am I supposed to do, pull over, stop the car, get out, and have my conversation? Get a new car? While I agree with the spirit of the law wholeheartedly, I believe there are some circumstances when it might be ok, but not for most of the 25 and under crowd. Thanks for the insight.

    -WHolland.

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