The letter to the editor below was originally published in the print edition of the Courier News of New Jersey on April 19, 2021:
As a driver, bicyclist or pedestrian, it’s nearly impossible to escape being next to drivers whose eyes are glued to screens instead of the road. While public awareness may be heightened during Distracted Driving Awareness Month, distracted driving is a constant, widespread occurrence – a public safety crisis on our roadways.
A new Selective Insurance study that The Harris Poll conducted online found nearly nine of ten drivers (87%) admitted to engaging in distracted driving behaviors when making personal trips in the past 90 days. What’s more, 80% of drivers who are parents of children under 18 say they are not always distraction-free when driving their children.
Distracted driving is not victimless. More than 3,000 people were killed in distracted driving crashes in 2019 alone. The economic cost of nearly $48 billion annually impacts all taxpayers. Businesses are also negatively affected, as these crashes cost employers nearly $19 billion in 2019.
The good news is that focused industry and advocacy strategies are helping. These include new comprehensive state legislative proposals banning distracted driving across all electronic communication platforms, including apps, cameras, video conferencing, social media, gaming, etc. These laws will require updating to keep pace with technology changes, whether a device is handheld or fixed or embedded in the vehicle. Additionally, proven vehicle safety technology, such as automatic emergency braking, blind-spot detection, and lane departure warnings, are in some new cars but should be required standard equipment and compliant with minimum new vehicle performance standards.
The New Jersey Legislature can do its part by passing Senate Bill (SB) 1602 to prohibit device use while stopped in traffic and Assembly Bill (A.) 855 to ban distracted viewing, such as video conferencing or watching a movie while driving. These commonsense upgrades are supported by recommendations in a new report by the Transportation Research Board (TRB).
It’s time for elected officials to take action to curb distracted driving crashes and the avoidable devastation of lives and property.