Enforcement key to modifying driver behavior

You are a passenger in a car being driven by a friend of yours. As the two of you are driving along, your friend receives a call on his cell phone, taking it out of his pocket to answer the call. What do you do? You have two choices; keep quiet and let your friend continue the phone conversation, or, say something immediately, like “Please pull over and stop the car while you complete your call.” I’m betting very few of you would say anything at all. Driving is dangerous enough; some 33,000-40,000 people are killed and well over two million seriously injured every year in the US. By saying nothing to your friend, you have just tripled the risk of a crash for the two of you.

According to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, visual-manual subtasks (such as reaching for a phone, dialing or texting) triple the risk of a crash. This is especially alarming considering that at any given daylight moment in the U.S., an estimated 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving. As a result, distracted driving is now considered to be a roadway “epidemic” that compromises the safety of all drivers, passengers, and bystanders.

Before the U.S. Department of Transportation took up distracted driving under former Secretary Ray LaHood, the issue was like smoking in the 1940s or asbestos in the 1950s: the harm was there but few knew about it and fewer were trying to prevent it. Fortunately most states have stepped up to the plate and passed legislation to stop this dangerous practice. But, laws are only as good as the enforcement behind them.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced the results of state police enforcement efforts to crack down on aggressive and distracted driving. During “Speed Week” enforcement from April 17 through 24, troopers issued 24,354 traffic tickets, including nearly 11,000 for speeding (one for 130 mph) and over 1,000 for distracted driving. Earlier in April, State Police launched “Operation Hang-up,” an annual crackdown on distracted drivers. During that five-day period, troopers issued 2,315 tickets for talking on a hand-held phone while driving and 1,156 tickets for texting or operating other hand held electronics while the vehicle was in motion.

With education and enforcement, two of the three “E’s” of traffic safety, we will gradually effect an attitude change in society that will be similar to what has happened with drinking and driving. Yes, we still get far too many DWIs, but we are not anywhere near as tolerant of this crime as we were decades ago. And, the same will happen with distracted driving over time.

Now, back to the question asked at the beginning of this article – what would you do if your friend took a cell phone call while you were riding with him? Hopefully you would have the courage to say something; to say nothing and accept the danger that he put you both in, as well as other drivers, is the coward’s way out.

For more articles on Vehicle and Traffic Law and traffic safety, visit the Traffic Safety Board’s website at www.franklincony.org/ and click on the Traffic Safety Board from the pull-down menu under departments. “Like” us on Facebook as well. You may also call me, Dave Werner, at 483-1882 with your comments and questions.