As part of its continuing effort to combat distracted driving, the U.S. Department of Transportation on Thursday, April 8, kicked off pilot programs in Hartford, Conn., and Syracuse, N.Y., to test whether increased law enforcement efforts can curb drivers using cell phones while behind the wheel.
The pilot programs, which are similar to previous efforts to curb drunken driving and increase seatbelt use among drivers, are the first federally funded efforts in the country to focus specifically on the effects of increased enforcement and public advertising on reducing distracted driving. Drivers caught texting or talking on a handheld cell phone will be pulled over and ticketed. The message is simple, “Phone in One Hand. Ticket in the Other.”
“Law enforcement will be out on the roads in Syracuse and Hartford with one simple message – if a driver is caught with a cell phone in one hand, they’ll end up with a ticket in the other,” says Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “It’s time for drivers to act responsibly, put their hands on the wheel and focus on the road.”
High visibility enforcement began in the Syracuse metropolitan area Thursday, April 8, and will continue through Saturday, April 17, while the crackdown in the Hartford metropolitan area will be held Saturday, April 10, through Friday, April 16. Subsequent enforcement waves in both states will take place throughout the course of the yearlong program.
The program will be supported by a paid advertising campaign that focuses on men and women up to the age of 49 and will air through April16 in the Hartford and Syracuse metropolitan areas. Each pilot program is supported by $200,000 in federal funds and matched by $100,000 from the state. Researchers will study changes in attitudes and behavior from beginning to end, and the results will serve as a model for employing high visibility enforcement, education and outreach to reduce distracted driving behaviors in other cities and states across the country.
Research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that in 2008 alone, nearly 6,000 people were killed and more than a half million people were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver nationwide. Almost 20 percent of all crashes that same year involved some type of distraction. Nationwide, six states prohibit all drivers from using handheld cell phones, while driving and 21 states have enacted texting bans.
“There is no question that high-visibility enforcement combined with effective public advertising works,” says NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. “We’ve seen the results firsthand with national campaigns like ‘Click It or Ticket’ and ‘Drunk Driving. Over The Limit. Under Arrest.’ Distracted driving is a growing problem. The numbers tell the story of these preventable tragedies.”