Distracted driving is indisputably dangerous. Sending or reading a text for five seconds at 55 mph is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field blindfolded, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).
But in trying to prevent the thousands of lives lost annually to preoccupied drivers, legislation in Missouri and nationwide has been largely ineffective and targets the wrong part of the problem.
One Dallas Morning News analysis said, “Crash data in 12 Texas cities with cellphone rules found no consistent reduction in distracted driving wrecks after cities enacted bans.” Additionally, NPR wrote in 2014 that despite anti-texting laws passed in 41 states, drivers have not been deterred from distracted driving.
Missouri especially needs change as roadways become more and more dangerous. The Kansas City Star reported, “Since 2014, cellphone-related crashes in Missouri have increased by 35 percent, with nearly 2,600 crashes in 2017. At least 100 people died from distracted driving the previous year.”
These dangerous road conditions derive from the punitive nature of America’s current distracted driving laws. Legislators need to stop raising penalties for those who break the law but instead treat the problem at its root.
Education programs are far more likely to work than response-based legislation. High Visibility Enforcement (HVE) and public health education programs are likely to solve the problem better than distracted driving ordinances according to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Research Institute.
HVE is an especially promising option for Missouri. HVE incorporates efforts to educate people on laws according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Breaking from traditional law enforcement, HVE applies a preventative approach to solving distracted driving.
Preventing the problem is decidely more effective in the fight for traffic safety. The DOT reports HVE has been successful in deterring distracted driving.
When looking toward an effective solution to distracted driving, it is important to examine what is proven to work. Massachusetts is the safest state to drive in, as reported by Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention by Healthgrove. Additionally, according to a study conducted by the CDC, only 32 percent of teen drivers in Massachusetts reported texting or emailing while driving, a statistic that ranks among the lowest of state averages.
Careful analysis by the Boston Globe concluded graduated driver licensing programs in Massachusetts excel at teaching safe driving skills and habits to teen drivers, a key component to why the state’s drivers are so safe. These teen-education strategies correct distracted driving before it begins.
Finally, the issue is a matter of the way America handles laws themselves. Increased punishment, empirically, does not change the amount of criminal offending, Psychology Today wrote. The reason lies in human nature, according to Dr. Michael Karson, Professor of Professional Psychology. Dr. Karson wrote, “Punishment does not change the tendency to engage in the behavior that was punished. Instead, it makes the [person] want to avoid the source of punishment. As soon as the situation seems different in some way, the tendency to engage in the behavior will reassert itself.”
The failure of Texas and New York’s attempts at preventing distracted driving through lucrative punishment prove this theory. Massachusetts’ approach, along with HVE, is the correct one in solving the problem of distracted driving.
Deterrence and education are the route to safe roads in Missouri. Benjamin Franklin puts it best, “It is easier to prevent bad habits than to break them.”
What do you think is the best way to curve distracted driving? Let us know in the comments below!