Train crash in Spain leads to calls for federal distracted driving laws in US

August 8, 2013

A train collision in Spain that killed 79 people – due to the operator talking on his cell phone – has pushed the U.S. to consider its own distracted driving policies. A Center for Disease Control and Prevention study reveals that distracted driving is a bigger problem in the U.S. than in Europe.

Texting and driving

Texting and talking can wait when you’re driving. Image by interactive_devices02

Around one in three drivers in the U.S. admitted to reading or sending texts or emails behind the wheel. In contrast, a mere 15 percent of drivers in Spain did so. The problem goes beyond texting or e-mailing.

Sixty nine percent of U.S. drivers between 18 to 64 years old say they had talked on their cell phone while driving in the last month before the survey. Every day, over nine people die and another 1,060 are injured in crashes involving distracted drivers.

State action against distracted driving

Distracted driving laws in US states

States ban and punish distracted driving differently. Image by NSCL

While 41 states have banned texting while driving, only 11 states prohibit all drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving. No state bans all cell phone use for all drivers. Moreover, individual states respond differently to tackle distracted driving. For instance, Texas legislators see even a statewide ban on distracted driving as too much of an infringement on civil liberties. Instead, they allow municipalities to take whatever action they think is necessary in their communities.

Federal attempts to influence states

In 2011, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended that states ban drivers from using hands free devices. “People are tempted to update their Facebook page, they are tempted to tweet, as if sitting at a desk.” says NTSB chairwoman Deborah Hersman.

This led to reactions like calling the government a “nanny state.” Horace Cooper, an adjuct fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research feels that a blanket ban on cell phone use “implies adults aren’t careful enough to make responsible decisions regarding cell phone use and driving.”

Texting and driving label

Label by smartsign.

The NTSB’s views were echoed last year by Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood, who calls for a federal law to ban texting or talking on a cell phone while driving. Gary Biller, president of the National Motorists Associations, on the other hand, feels this is not required because it is covered by existing distracted driving laws.

Currently, a federal law prohibits commercial drivers from using cell phones during interstate travel. Also, the Department of Transportation offers grants to states that ban text messaging for all drivers and the use of handheld phones by young drivers. States like California and West Virginia have received federal grants to enforce distracted driving laws.

Federal grants can induce states to strengthen their efforts in solving the problem of distracted driving which remains unchanged despite bans. Lack of enforcement is one reason use of cell phone while driving has not gone down.

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Category: Enforcement, News & New Products, Road safety

About the Author ()

A graduate in English Literature from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, India, Nupur also has an MBA from the Faculty of Management Studies, Delhi University. Nupur is currently trying to be as savvy a cook as she is with a book. She likes watching plays and sunsets. Nupur first lived in Kolkata and then for a decade in Delhi, still her favorite city.

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