Distracted driving

Distracted driving is the process involving diversion of attention during driving that is instigated by the driver temporarily focussing on an object, task, person or event that is not related to the action of driving. The obstruction reduces the driver’s awareness, his decision-making, thus leading to road accidents.  Mobile phone usage prompted the focus on distracted driving during driving. Therefore, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) formulated a distracted driving policy regarding cell phones in place. The policy states that drivers must refrain from using cell phones while driving. The policy was drafted to curb the mobile phone usage during driving. Mobile phones had been identified as the 25% contributors to all reported road accidents in the USA. The policy has been effective. Other than increasing awareness about the risks of cell phone usage while driving, the rates of traffic accidents have significantly gone down. Therefore, this paper evaluates the effectiveness of the distracted driving policy of mobile phones with other distracted driving policies.

Cell phone policy

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a policy stating that drivers should desist from engaging in activities that distract them from operating a motor vehicle. The policy prohibits both novice and experienced driver from using any form of the electronic communication device when driving. It directs motor vehicle manufacturers to install limited inbuilt communication-related devices in the car. Finally, the driver must avoid texting or using video gadgets when driving. The intention of the policy is to restrict phone usage while driving to minimize driver distraction hence improving highway safety. For NHTSA to arrive at its goals, it has gone ahead to outline its implementation plan. They include improving the quality of its data analysis methods as a means of understanding the degree of cell phones as a distraction to driving. It is also determining how to design, develop and evaluate crash avoidance technologies. Lastly is the behavioural approach of educating drivers regarding the risks of using cell phones while driving. NHTSA made the policy based on over 100 published peer-reviewed studies on cell phone use as distracted driving.   Also, is by consulting with the corporate, legislative making bodies and through recommendations from U.S private citizens. Studies show that drivers, both novice and experienced tend to have lower proficiency in driving when using cell phones (Wilson & Stimpson, 2010)

85% of American adults own mobile phones (Duggan & Rainie, 2012). The gadgets are primary communication source for more than half of the US households. In recent years, activities that are directly functioned by mobile phones have increased.  Other than various applications, the traditional uses of cell phones have increased significantly. Currently, mobile users engaging in the texting have increased from 60% to over 90% from the year 2012-2015. Moreover, the number of internet users has also reached more than 85% people after the invention of the smartphone. Now, most Americans own mobile phones and most of them are frequent uses of the gadgets. The increasing interaction of people through cell phones has since become a leading cause for distractions in every individual’s activity. Despite the disruptive nature of mobile phones, many people are oblivious of some of its dangers.  In his case, the primary cause for concern is the cell phone as a contributory factor to the American road accident cases (Barker, Monk, Goodman, Mineta &NHTSA, 2009).

According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 10% of fatal car crashes and 20% of injuries crashes of 2015 were because of the distracted form of driving (NHTSA, 2015). The usage of cell phones while driving is measured in many ways. The methods include self-report, naturalistic studies and observational studies. According to the National Survey of Distracted Attitudes and Behaviours more than 48% of drivers reported answering their phones while driving. Ten % of the drivers reported to texting. On the other hand, 2012 observational study of the National Occupant Protection Use Survey (W.H.O & NHTSA, 2011).  states that visible phone manipulation had risen by 1.3% since 2011(Pickrell & Ye, 2014). Since then, that is, after the 2011 NOPUS study, cell phones are increasingly being associated with the distracted driving accidents. According to Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Cell Phones contribute to about 65 of all crashes. The statistics translate to 636,000 crashes, 2,600 deaths, 12,000 serious injuries and 330,000 minor injuries each year. The studies also indicate that drivers who use mobile phones are four times most likely to cause a crash (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety). According to Harvard Centre for Risk Analysis, an annual cost of road accidents caused by cell phone distracted driving is approximate $ 43 billion (United States  & World Health Organization, 2011).

The extreme extent of a cell phone, as an accident contributor has since been an issue of concern. It is a problem affecting various stakeholders such as motorists, organizations responsible for transport safety, telecommunication industry, vehicle manufacturers and the government.  A solution to the problem was instigated by educational campaigns from the stakeholders about the prudent use of cell phones while driving.  Therefore, banning cell phone usage during driving as a distracted driving policy is in the context of road safety. In concluding their study of examining distracted driving trends in the U.S. from 1999 to 2008, Wilson and Stimpson state that distracted driving had become a U.S. public safety hazard.  They, therefore, recommended that tougher laws should be enacted to contain the situation. Other than because of the escalating road accident, the timing of the policy comes after many European countries  formulated similar policy (Wilson & Stimpson, 2010)

Effectiveness of the policy

The policy since its launch in 2009 has been quite effective. Because of the policy, many driver awareness campaigns have been carried out.  NHTSA has led the campaigns initiatives.  Due to the policy, manufacturers are currently producing new car models that have inbuilt phone system and voice activation system that responds to calls instead of a driver reviewing a call literarily.

Employer and Manufacturer Liability

Currently, more legislatures are joining the debate of cell phones as distracted driving. By December 2015, many states had the cell phone policy in place while more than fourteen states have banned using cell phones while driving. A 2009 survey by National Safety Council nearly 50% of U.S. companies had mobile policies.  The number of enterprises with the policy had risen drastically by over 3% since 2009 (Bello 2010).  However, they have placed much emphasis on hand free communication equipment.  It is believed that the trend has been a reaction to the tough state laws that ban mobile usage while driving and the subsequent more stringent penalties like 15 years conviction. The survey also indicates that employers principal concerns regarding the policy were reduced productivity, employee resistance thus challenges of implementing the policy. The survey revealed an increased productivity in 10% of the entire companies that apply the policy, 61% of the companies witnessed no change while 2% reported a decrease in the productivity (W.H.O, 2012).

The actual effectiveness of the policy on distracted driving related accidents has been quite difficult to ascertain. During 2011, the data collected by NHTSA shows that over the period of 2006-2011, there was a minimum percentage reduction of non-fatal accidents caused by distracted driving. Over that period, only 16%-17% of the total non-fatal accidents were considered to have been contributed by distracted driving. Subsequently, there was a slight decrease in distraction-affected injury accidents. The small change was 19% to 17% from 2006 to 2011 respectively. Also, states that banned only text messaging while driving experienced higher cases of fatal crashes. In this case, the data indicates that texting may not have declined following the ban. Interestingly, states with no cell phone restrictions of any kind had lower fatal accidents caused by distraction than states that had cell phone restrictions.  Therefore, it is not clear whether the laws limiting cell phone use while driving has been effective in reducing distracted driving and distracted-related crashes.

Accuracy of the collected Data

In any case, the handheld policy may not be the reason for affecting automobile accident rates. Though there is a slight reduction in road accidents, these observations quietly makes it difficult to determine whether the decrease in accident rates are as a result of the policy that bans using the cell phone during driving or due to other factors. Some of the factors that could be attributed to the reduction in distracted driving may be safety education, new automobile safety features, road construction or changes in alcohol control policies. Therefore, such confounding factors must be included in analysing the effectiveness of this policy. It also be deduced that the efficiency of the policy has been so minimum because of weak enforcement. For instance, during the first few months when the policy was made public, the user rate of cell phones while driving reduced from 2.4% to 1.1% in New York City.  However, a year later, the number of people using cell phones while driving rose again to 2.1%.  It could, therefore, be assumed that since the initial reduction of cell phone usage while driving was not sustained, the reduction of automobile accidents in New York may be due to other contributing factors (Cheng, 2015).

Though the policy could be effective, NHTSA admits that cell phone distraction-related road crashes are significantly under-reported. It is believed that more than half of cell phone related crashes are not reported during the review of fatal and non-fatal crashes. One of the problems of the policy is that it does not have data that accurately defines the role of cell phones in distraction-related crashes. The limitations that affect accurate recording of mobile phone use as a cause for crash include:

  1. Reluctance of drivers to admit the behaviour
  2. Lack of witness

III.    Police inability to record cell phone distraction activity

  1. Difficulty in determining the cause of accident, the time of the crash with cell phone records

Alternative programs

Despite the policy, NHTSA has laid out alternative programmes. The programmes include research, education, legislation and regulations in conjunction with the private sector. Concerning research, NHTSA, has directed automobile manufacturers to reduce the amount of electronic devices in auto vehicles. However, the effect of this alternative policy does not seem to be effective. Despite the auto manufacturers equipping motor vehicles with technologies that synchronise cell phones, the effect has been minimal because cell phone distracted is linked to driver behaviour. Therefore, the policy makers must strive to change the drivers’ behaviours. Up to date, policy makers do not have a complete understanding of the cognitive awareness distraction by cell phone. Also is how to enhance cognitive awareness of a driver. However, by combining the policy with education, legislation and visibility enforcement, the outcome is often positive and progressive. It is imperative to note that through enforcement and education, driver’s behaviours change because, other than being aware of the danger of using a cell phone while driving,  effective enforcements of the policy prevents their action.  A high visible public education programme not only explains the risks of such behaviour but also warns the drivers of dire consequences.

A visible enforcement programme involves combining public education campaigns with more police presence as a means of reducing distracted driving.  Since 2010, NHTSA has been conducting and evaluating the effectiveness of this programme. In one of it surveys carried out in Syracuse and Hartford, it showed that cell phone use by drivers fell by 57% from 72% in New York, 32% in Syracuse. The mobile enforcement campaign by the NHTSA has expanded nationwide and it is effective. While the U.S. legislatures have not fully implemented phone ban policy as directed by NHTSA, thousands of employers have been playing the role of changing the behaviour of using a cell phone while driving among their employees. The rational for companies adhering to the policy may be because they incur many costs when their employees are involved in a crash. According to NHTSA, an employer incurs a cost of $24,000 in the event their automobiles crash. The costs tend to increase to even $ 125,000 when an injury occurs in the accident. Moreover, employers are continuously faced with liability, productivity, insurance and absenteeism costs. The quick implementation of the employer’s cell phone distracted driving policy by employers, is because they want to avoid the $500,000 to $20 million for car crashes caused by their employees who use cell phones while driving, (Dellinge & Sleet, 2010).


With the danger posed by the rising behaviour of using cell phones while driving, NHTSA must improve the effectiveness of its policy to curb distracted-related accidents. First, it must formulate an accurate method of collecting and presenting data related to cell phone caused accidents.  Through accurate data, the organisation can evaluate the progress and effectiveness of its policy based on an actual statistics. NHTSA must also focus on understanding the behaviours of drivers when coming up with policies that are more stringent. Eventually, other than educating the drivers and the public on the risks of using the cell phones, NHTSA must continue enforcing through outstanding programmes. It is, therefore, imperative to conclude that mobile comprise of distracted driving. It is responsible for many deaths caused by both novice and experienced drivers. It is the reason NHTSA drafted the policy of banning cell phone usage while driving. Though the policy has been active for many years, its effectiveness has not been comprehensive because of the money factors that determine its success.




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