Distracted driving has been a concern for public safety professionals long before the invention of the cellular phone, texting, snapchatting, tweeting and Instagram. However, it wasn’t until wireless communication technology was introduced to the daily driver that vehicle crashes on our roadways and highways spiked. In 2011, the National Highway Traffic Safety Institute (NHTSA) estimated 3,000 deaths annually are the result of distracted driving. Moreover, it was reported that same year an additional 431,000 people were injured due to distracted driving.
To date, 48 states have created distracted driving awareness campaigns and distracted driving laws that prohibit or limit wireless device usage. For example, California does not allow anyone under the age of 18 to use a cell phone (handheld and hands-free) while driving. Adults are prohibited from using a cell phone in a handheld manner. Colorado and New Mexico have a ban on texting for all drivers and prohibited cell phone use (handheld and hands-free) for drivers under 18. Arizona only bans school bus drivers from using a cell phone (handheld and hands-free) and Montana has no laws regarding cell phone usage.
Distracted driving crash data is abundant and national trends indicate distracted driving has become a significant public safety concern. In the July 2016 issue of Police Chief Magazine, a traffic safety survey of police chiefs indicates that 48 percent reported distracted driving was their primary concern. Speeding was second at 17 percent. However, for states like Arizona and Montana, it may be difficult to actually understand the true impact of distracted driving.
Without a state law prohibiting handheld cell phone use or bans on texting, cities like Tucson, Phoenix and Flagstaff have created their own ordinances in an attempt to reduce collisions and better understand the scope of the problem in their respective cities. Pima County’s ban on texting while driving took effect last month; however, even the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) has asserted that a texting-only ban is difficult for police officers to enforce. Drivers may claim they weren’t texting, but instead, simply dialing a phone number, scrolling through photographs or changing the Pandora radio station. This could result in less effective enforcement and a law that fails to effectively reduce crashes. Instead, the GHSA actually recommends that states ban hand-held cell phone use for all drivers.
The Town of Oro Valley averages about 535 crashes annually. In 2015, six percent of drivers involved in crashes self-reported being distracted. Anecdotally, Oro Valley police officers see a much higher number of drivers being distracted by their handheld device on a daily basis. You’ve likely seen it yourself.
What does all this mean for smaller communities like Oro Valley? It means it is time for our residents, leaders, elected officials, schools, businesses and visitors to have a serious conversation about distracted driving and what we can do to prevent injuries and fatal car crashes. So we invite you to join us on Thursday, September 22 at 6 p.m. at the Hilton El Conquistador Resort for a Community Conversation on Distracted Driving. You’ll see more information in the coming weeks about this special event, but please be sure to mark your calendars now.