STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- As distracted driving continues to cause injury and death across the country, and here on Staten Island, two safety organizations have come together, urging states to enhance their efforts to combat the dangerous driving behavior.
On Friday, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and StopDistractions.org announced a new partnership to encourage states to develop a comprehensive approach to discourage distracted driving.
“At any given moment during the day in the United States, nearly a half a million drivers are distracted behind the wheel,” said GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins. “It’s a dangerous and deadly epidemic that is responsible for eight to ten percent of all fatal crashes, a statistic that has varied little in the past seven years.”
In 2019, crashes that involved distracted driving killed 3,142 people in the United States, a 10% increase from the year prior, according to the GHSA.
And the effects of distracted driving are being felt right here on Staten Island as well.
Through Apr. 13, there have been 632 total collisions reported on Staten Island, according to the city’s Open Data portal.
Of those 632 collisions, 155 of them resulted in injuries.
Of those 155 collisions resulting in injury, 42 of them, or 27%, listed distracted driving as a contributing factor, making it the leading cause of accidents with injuries on Staten Island so far this year.
Researchers have found that each text you send behind the wheel significantly increases your chances of being involved in a crash.
Overall crash rates increase by 8.3% and severe crash rates increase by 6.5% for every text sent per hour of driving, according to a recent GHSA report.
Jennifer Smith, the founder of StopDistractions.org, knows the dangers of distracted driving all too well, having lost her mother in 2008 during a distracted driving crash in which the other driver blew a red light while talking on their cellphone.
“Some state distracted driving laws are years old and have not kept pace with how rapidly this technology has evolved,” said Smith. “StopDistractions.org has been instrumental in modernizing state policy, as well as promoting fair and equitable enforcement of these laws by state and local police.”
The advocates are encouraging states to increase police enforcement of distracted driving and rollout public awareness campaigns to educate drivers on the dangers of inattentiveness on the road.
According to the GHSA, studies conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in California and Delaware found that distracted driving decreased by about 33% in areas where police increased enforcement and public awareness campaigns were rolled out via radio ads and other media outlets.
At this point, most states have passed some sort of law regarding cellphone use while driving, but advocates say these laws need to be strengthened and adjusted to keep up with rapidly-changing technologies.
Currently, 48 states have passed laws banning texting while driving, but only 24 states have banned handheld cellphone use all together, meaning drivers in half these states are still permitted to use their phone in some capacity while driving.
In nine states, hands-free distracted driving laws have been adopted, something that safety advocates would like to see more states consider as new technologies, like voice-controlled infotainment systems, bring about new, hands-free distractions for drivers to contend with.
“This problem demands a broad approach including engineering, technology advancements, education and equitable enforcement of strong laws,” Adkins said.