Could “Mothers” Help Reduce Distracted Driving?

Since there seems to be no end in sight to the distracted driving epidemic, those trying to curb this dangerous practice have to continue to come up with new ways to get drivers to put their phones down and focus on the road. There are all types of public service announcements that are supposed to change drivers’ attitude toward texting and driving, in addition to the measures that authorities take to prevent it, such as distracted driving laws, that carry some pretty tough penalties, including heavy fines and a certain number of demerit points against a person’s driver’s license.

However, while these measures do help raise people’s awareness about this issue, they don’t seem to manage to eradicate this risky behavior completely. Distracted driving is still the leading cause of car crashes in the United States, with 28% of all car accidents attributed to it. This makes talking on a cell phone and texting a riskier behavior than speeding and drunk driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 1.6 million crashes a year involve a distracted driver.

The American Journal of Health estimates that between 2001 and 2007, drivers talking on a cell phone or text messaging killed 16,000 people. According to the NHTSA, about 421,000 people were injured in distraction-related accidents in 2012, a significant increase over the 387,000 people injured the year before, which shows the scope of the problem.

Distracted driving is often compared to drunk driving, with experts saying that texting is more dangerous than driving after drinking alcohol, as it requires manual, visual and cognitive attention, taking your attention away from the road. While cell phone use while driving is increasing, driving under the influence of alcohol is on the decline. NHTSA statistics show that the number of alcohol-related crashes, as well as DUI fatalities, has been decreasing over the past few years. In 2010, 11,000 people were killed in drunk driving accidents, a number that dropped to 10,300 in 2012. Between 2002 and 2011, there was a 25% decrease in drunk driving fatalities.

Apart from the fact that DUI laws in all states became stricter a couple of years ago, lowering the legal BAC limit to .08%, there is another factor that has helped reduce the number of DUI deaths. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) was established in 1980, in efforts to curb underage drinking and get authorities to enact tougher drunk driving laws. The organization claims that since it was founded, the number DUI fatalities has been cut in half, which is backed by statistics from the NHTSA. They have been encouraging the development of Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS), and they have managed to get all states to pass ignition interlock device laws, which has helped reduce the number of second-time offenders considerably.

Now, advocates against distracted driving are suggesting that the MADD program should be extended to distracted driving, in addition to drunk driving, so that the battle against this epidemic can be fought in a more organized manner. It could focus on creating campaigns and public service announcements against texting and driving, and it could work with authorities to figure out how to enforce tougher laws more effectively.