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Distracted Driving: state, federal governments continue mitigation efforts

The so-called “Candy Crush Loophole” was a running joke in the United Kingdom for several years. But it also epitomized the dilemma lawmakers face when writing distracted driving legislation in the United States and abroad.

Ramsey Barreto drove passed the scene of a serious car accident in Ruislip, west London, on August 17, 2017. He slowed down, pulled out his smartphone, and captured footage with his camera. A police officer pulled Barreto over, and issued a citation. The officer accused Barreto of violating a 2003 rule that outlaws driving while using a device that “performs an interactive communication.”

A lower court magistrate convicted Barreto on the charge. But the conviction was overturned in the Isleworth Crown Court the following year. The High Court of Justice affirmed the reversal. The Court reasoned that the rule only outlawed interactive activities, like texting and talking. Filming footage is not interactive, thus not illegal.

U.K. policymakers revised the law to close what became known as the “Candy Crush Loophole.” Joking aside, distracting driving is a serious problem that U.S. lawmakers are also struggling to curtail.

Distracted driving laws in the United States

Data compiled by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration found that 14% of automobile accidents in 2018 involved distracted driving. There is no federal law regulating distracted driving. The responsibility rests with the states.

New Mexico is the worst state for distracting driving, followed by Alabama and Montana, according to a survey by cell phone marketplace WhistleOut. None of said states have laws outright prohibiting hand-held device use while driving. New Mexico outlaws texting, but not necessarily talking while driving.

Meanwhile, Alaska, Arkansas and New York are the least distracted states. But it isn’t necessarily because of laws. Alaska only bans texting, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Pennsylvania is the fourth-least distracted state. It currently does not outlaw hand-held devices while driving. But lawmakers are trying to change that in 2021.

Incentives for states enacting tougher distracted driving laws

The Behavioral Traffic Safety Cooperative Research Program (BTSCRP) released a report entitled “Using Electronic Devices While Driving: Legislation and Enforcement Implications” last Wednesday. It examined distracted driving laws in all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and 10 Canadian provinces. The goal was finding common elements in state laws that translated to actual safety on the roads. One said element is federal funding.

Congress passed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act in December of 2015. Section 405(e) of said law provides incentive grants to states that enact or strengthen their distracted driving laws. There are specific criteria outlined in the law for states to qualify for the funds. The BTSCRP report concluded that only four states were eligible for the funding at the time of its research.

Oregon was one of the Section 405(e) eligible states. The Beaver State updated its laws in 2017, prohibiting driving with a device in either hand. Thus, states may permit the use the hands-free devices and smartphone mounting systems and still be in compliance.

Safety lies in the individual

There is no silver bullet legislation that will stop distracted driving and the dangers it poses to the public. A 2012 Harvard study found that drivers are 23 times more likely to get in an accident while texting. The study concluded that personal responsibility is the only true remedy to eliminate distracted driving accidents.

Take the Blitzify pledge. Put your phone down or use a mounting apparatus while driving.

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