Nearly 3,500 people were killed as the result of distracted driving in 2016, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). There's no doubt about it ... distracted driving can be deadly. That's why, this National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, we're examining the different ways that states around the country are dealing with the issue.
Handheld Device and Texting Bans
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg traveled to Boston in late March to ask Massachusetts legislators to approve a bill that would ban the use of handheld devices while behind the wheel.
“Motor vehicle crashes make up 95 percent of transportation deaths," Landsberg told the state's Transportation Committee. "NTSB refers to them as crashes, not accidents, because they’re completely predictable."
If Massachusetts approves the bill, it would join 16 states that have already banned the use of handheld devices by all drivers.
Though a minority of states have gone so far as to ban the use of handheld devices while driving, 49 states have enacted legislation against texting and driving. In most states, the ban applies to drivers of all ages and experience levels, while in Missouri and Arizona, it only prohibits texting and driving by young or newly licensed drivers.
The lone holdout when it comes to texting and driving bans is Montana. In 2015, a bill to ban texting and driving in the state was just one vote away from passing, but it hasn't made any progress in subsequent years.
In 2019 the organization Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety named Montana among the worst states for driver safety.
Adopting ‘Textalyzer’ Technology
It's common knowledge that breathalyzer devices are used to determine whether a driver's blood-alcohol level is above the legal limit. Now Nevada and New York are considering implementing "textalyzer" technology, which would help police determine whether phone use while driving contributed to the cause of a crash.
The textalyzer is made by Israeli company, Cellebrite. It connects to cell phones and scans them for recent use. In Nevada, the bill to adopt the technology has received serious backlash focused largely on privacy concerns, according to a Las Vegas-based NBC affiliate. But law enforcement has said it could help them better enforce texting and driving bans.
Even without textalyzers, however, it's still possible for police to determine whether distracted driving played a role in a crash through investigations, according to the NHTSA.
Protecting Teen Drivers
According to the NHTSA, distracted driving is particularly dangerous for teenagers. In fact, the organization says, teens are 23 times more likely to get into a car accident while texting than while they're focused on the road.
And texting isn't the only possible distraction for young drivers. Dr. Nichole Morris, a researcher at the University of Minnesota, told The New York Times that collision rates go up by 44 percent when teenagers carry just one unrelated passenger.
That's why most states have laws in place limiting the number of passengers who can ride with young drivers. In fact, only Florida, Mississippi, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota don't restrict the number of passengers that teen drivers can carry.
Limiting Other Distractions
While cell phones are perhaps the most talked-about cause of distracted driving, they're certainly not the only culprit, even among experienced drivers.
According to AAA, 16 states have banned wearing headphones on one or both ears while driving.
Eating or drinking behind the wheel also poses a risk. In fact, a 2014 study showed that eating causes as much of a distraction for drivers as texting. Though no states have specifically made it illegal to eat behind the wheel, it's possible in some places that drivers could be penalized for it.
In 2017, for example, Washington passed a distracted driving law that allows officers to give drivers a $99 ticket for eating, smoking, grooming or reading if the activity caused the infraction (like speeding or failure to stay in a lane) for which they were pulled over.