The start of the holiday season is also the beginning of safe driving campaigns. Today, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued an official call for banning cell phone use while driving to be made national policy. In their press release, NTSB states that over 3,000 fatalities were the result of a driver using a phone or other personal electronic devices behind the wheel in 2010.
This recommendation is the end product of the organiation’s investigation of a multi-vehicle highway accident in Missouri that resulted in two fatalities and 38 injuries. A pick-up truck crashed into a truck-tractor that had slowed for road construction. A school bus then crashed into the pick-up truck, to then be struck from behind by second school bus. The board’s investigation revealed that the driver of the pick-up truck received 11 text messages, with the last one coming to him seconds before impact with the truck-trailer.
Ms. Deborah A.P. Hersman, the Chairman for NTSB, said in the press release that “No call, no text, no update, is worth a human life.” This message is similar to the one that other transportation groups and Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood have advocated in recent months. In October, the National The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Ad Council released a series of new PSAs that encourage younger drivers (16-to-24 year olds) to “Stop the texts. Stop the wrecks”.
While data from 2010 demonstrates a significant decline in traffic fatalities in 60 years, new information with regards to “distracted driving” concluded that there was an estimated 3,092 fatalities in distraction-affected crashes. That’s approximately 3,000 deaths too many for LaHood and others, so expect to see more of these types of campaigns in the near future.
Will NTSB be successful in turning a cell phone ban into national policy? Some states like California have taken the initiative to legally ban cell phone use while driving, but many more states do not have such policies in place. Others are trying different marketing campaigns, like Chicago’s placement of 32 Pedestrian Safety mannequins along Wacker Drive to represent the 32 pedestrians killed in the city in 2010. The Chicago DOT, in partnership with the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Chicago Police Department and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration developed this campaign in response to an in-progess Chicago Pedestrian Plan that will “identify new opportunities and ongoing initiatives that will strengthen Chicago’s already robust pedestrian environment.” As the plan is further developed, some of the considerations outlined above would most likely be incorporated into future studies and policy.
The mannequins are about as effective as a bumper sticker as the campaign does not encourage people to consider their behavior and actions as contributing factors to safety. Their physical presence may encourage a few drivers and pedestrians to be more careful based on numbers alone, but the long-term effectiveness of this campaign is arguable. On the other hand, the PSAs from the National Ad Council and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (with considerable support from Ray LaHood) may be more inspiring for policymakers to consider new legislation regarding this matter. As the number of cell phone users is rapidly increasing, there is a risk of declining safety on our roads and streets.