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States Boosting Efforts Against Distracted Driving: Report

But increased education, law enforcement is stymied by drivers' reluctance to 'put down their phones'

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WEDNESDAY, July 17 (HealthDay News) -- More states are implementing education and enforcement efforts to combat cellphone-linked distracted driving, a new report finds.

"States recognize the threat posed by distraction and are working hard in several areas to address it," Jonathan Adkins, executive directive of the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), said in an agency news release.

But he added that efforts to keep motorists' attention on the road ahead is an uphill battle.

"States face major obstacles including a lack of funding for enforcement, media and education," Adkins said. "That, coupled with the motoring public's unwillingness to put down their phones, despite disapproving of and recognizing the danger of this behavior, makes for a challenging landscape."

The new GHSA report found that a growing number of states are collecting data on distracted driving and enacting and enforcing laws against the problem. Many states are also using new media to educate the public about the issue, focusing on those drivers at greatest risk.

Distracted driving is now considered a "priority issue" in 39 states and Washington, D.C., a 43 percent increase from 28 states in 2010, according to the report released Wednesday.

At this point in time, no state fully bans cellphone use while driving, but 47 states and the District of Columbia now have specific laws that prohibit various forms of distracted driving that affect most drivers. For example, 41 states now ban texting by all drivers, compared with 28 states in 2010. That's a 45 percent increase, the GHSA said.

Police in nearly every state are actively enforcing distracted driving laws, a significant change since 2010. These efforts range from routine traffic patrols that include distracted driving enforcement as standard protocol, to targeted efforts that include specific events such as Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

Forty-seven states are taking steps to educate drivers about the dangers of distracted driving, a 26 percent increase from 37 states in 2010, the report found. The use of social media, including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, to get the message out has also risen 125 percent in the past three years.

States are also focusing their prevention efforts on teens, who are the earliest and strongest adopters of new technology and the age group with the highest crash risk. This year, 27 states and the District of Columbia report developing educational materials targeting teen drivers and/or their parents, a 22 percent increase from 2010. As well as the threat posed by cellphone use and texting, these materials also outline the dangers of distraction caused by loud music and other teen passengers.

"Developing effective programs and policies to keep all roadway users safe is a challenge, but it becomes even more daunting with the increase in the use of distracting technology," Adkins said.

More information

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has more about distracted driving.

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