Car accidents caused by a distracted driver are devastating for many reasons. First, they can result in catastrophic or fatal injuries for people who had no way of identifying or avoiding the distracted party. Second, they do not have to happen; people can stop distracted driving accidents by refraining from driving while distracted.
Unfortunately, stopping distracted driving has proven to be exceptionally difficult. Not only do people fail to recognize the risk they are taking when they do things like text or use a phone while driving, they also overestimate their own driving habits. As a result, states are increasingly adopting measures to stop and/or penalize distracted drivers.
Identifying effective measures
Identifying which efforts are effective in curbing distracted driving is complicated. Some measures are effective for brief periods of time; others work for some types of distraction and not others.
However, one trend that seems clear, according to this Bloomberg article, is that stricter state laws and penalties result in lower rates of fatal accidents. The article notes that states with strict bans on texting and use of hand-held phones see dramatic reductions in distracted driving accidents in the weeks and months after the laws go into effect.
A partisan issue?
It might follow, then, that states across the U.S. would embrace strict distracted driving laws. However, that is not the case. Distracted driving laws often become a political issue: people might argue that it is unnecessary regulation or just another tool police can use to pull people over.
What this means in Pennsylvania
Currently, Pennsylvania bans sending or reading received messages on a handheld phone while driving. However, drivers can still make and receive calls. And the penalties for violating the ban include a $50 fine, which is not harsh enough to prompt a change in behaviors for people who use their phone while driving.
Whether state lawmakers will follow the lead of other states and pursue more aggressive measures remains to be seen.
In the meantime, perhaps the best way to send a message to distracted drivers is to hold them legally and financially accountable for any damages they cause in an accident.