Drivers Manuals Lack Distracted Driving Info, AAA Says
By Erin Madigan, Staff Writer
States could do a better job of warning drivers about the dangers of talking on a cell phone, putting on makeup, fiddling with the radio and other distracting behaviors while driving, according to a new survey released Wednesday (8/6) by AAA, a national traffic safety advocacy group.
Only six states Arkansas, Minnesota, Michigan, New Jersey, Virginia and Wisconsin -- have sections in their driver's license manuals that address "distracted driving."
While only these states have sections in their manuals specifically titled "distracted driving," many others at least address a small portion of the issue in some way, said Barbara Harsha, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association (GSHA).
"A large number of (states) have something in their manual that's relevant to distracted driving, it's just scattered all over the place," Harsha told Stateline.org. GHSA and AAA, formerly the American Automobile Association, recommend that state motor vehicle administrations adopt distracted driving language in their manuals. AAA estimates that distracted driving contributes to 25 to 50 percent of traffic fatalities.
"Putting the distracted driving language in a driver's manual is really geared toward novice drivers. As an experienced driver you don't have much occasion to go back and look at the manual," Harsha said. "At this point I think the main focus is on education."
In order to help educate current drivers, AAA also unveiled a new nationwide radio public service announcement on distracted driving.
"It is essential to provide comprehensive information on distracted driving to all new drivers before they receive their license. Working with states to improve the manuals and educational curricula is key to helping reduce crashes and save lives amongst this vulnerable driving population," AAA president and chief executive officer Robert Darbelnet said in a press release.
The six components of distracted driving surveyed and commonly mentioned in states' manuals include using a cell phone, eating and drinking, reading, driving while emotional, tuning the radio and talking with other passengers. However, the six states with distracted driving language do not necessarily address all of these issues.
Still, manuals in nine states (Alaska, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas and Vermont) and the District of Columbia don't address any components of distracted driving, the survey said.
Traffic safety advocates said distracted driving measures, such as cell phone bans, are an emerging issue in state legislatures. While New York remains the only state with a complete cell phone ban, the issue is pending in several other states including Massachusetts, New Jersey and Wisconsin, according to AAA.
Comprehensive distracted driving legislation is also on the radar in New York, Oregon and Pennsylvania.
GHSA's Harsha said there really isn't a clearly defined role for enforcement of distracted driving, but some states have laws on the books.
For example, in New Hampshire, a 2001 negligent driving law holds drivers accountable for distractions that lead to an accident and motorists can be fined up to $1,000 for engaging in a "distracting activity," according to AAA.