Answer: As of October 2011 no state completely bans all cell phone use for all drivers; however, most states have enacted some sort of cell phone or texting ban. The Governor’s Highway Safety Association [GHSA] reports that 34 states and the District of Columbia ban texting for all drivers, while 30 states and the District of Columbia ban novice drivers from texting. Nine states ban hand held devices for all drivers.
The “National Phone Survey on Distracted Driving Attitudes and Behaviors”: December 2011, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA], Office of Behavioral Studies, surveyed 6,000 people representing all states. The goal of the survey is to assess current attitudes and self-reported behavior about distracted driving.
Some of the key findings in the phone survey are what you would think and some are not. Eighty percent of drivers say they talk to other passengers; the most commonly practiced distracting behavior. Forty five percent of the 6,000 people in the survey say they eat and drink while driving, 40 percent make and answer phone calls, 30 percent use their portable music device and 27 percent interact with children in the back seat.
Men are more likely to use navigation systems, smart phones (for directions) and portable music players with headphones. Women are more likely to interact with children in the back seat and conduct personal grooming. Men and women are equally likely to make/accept phone calls, read email or texts and send messages. Drivers under 25 years old are 2-3 times more likely to read or send emails and text messages.
Few drivers would never talk on the phone or never send texts or emails while driving. Still 54 percent said that bad weather would influence their use decision and 25 percent said bumper-to-bumper or fast moving traffic would influence their decision not to make calls or send messages. Oddly, seeing a police officer, driving at night or being in a marked school zone were not mentioned very often as an influence (one to six percent).
Over half of the people surveyed said that using a handheld device had no impact on their driving performance and a quarter of the group said texting or sending emails made no difference. The good news is that public support for cell phone laws are in the majority and even higher for a ban on texting or emailing, averaging 95 percent across all groups for the latter. Having said all that, new studies are showing than bans alone don’t work. Enforcement and education are effective when used together. Thanks for asking.
If you have any questions for future columns concerning motor vehicle traffic in Minnesota, please send your questions to: “ASK A TROOPER” c/o Sgt. Curt S. Mowers MN State Patrol P.O. Box 644 Brainerd, MN 56401 or email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org with Ask A Trooper in the subject line. Questions are edited.