Syracuse, New York – Increased law enforcement and high-profile public education campaigns can result in a dramatic cut in distracted driving, according to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA). The agency reported on two pilot projects to measure the effects in Syracuse, New York and Hartford, Connecticut.

“These findings show that strong laws, combined with highly visible police enforcement, can significantly reduce dangerous texting and cell phone use behind the wheel,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Based on these results, it is crystal clear that those who try to minimize this dangerous behaviour are making a serious error in judgement, especially when half a million people are injured and thousands more are killed in distracted driving accidents.”

Each program, supported by US$200,000 in federal funds and $100,000 from the state, examined whether increased police enforcement, along with paid advertising and news media coverage, could reduce distracted driving. During four periods of stepped-up enforcement over the past year, Syracuse police issued 9,857 citations for driver violations involving talking or texting on cell phones while operating a vehicle, while Hartford police issued 9,658 tickets for illegal phone use. Before and after each enforcement wave, NHTSA actively observed cell phone use and conducted public awareness surveys in the two cities.

The surveys found that in Syracuse, both handheld cell phone use and texting behind the wheel have declined by one-third, while in Hartford, where researchers initially identified drivers talking on their cell phones at twice the frequency, there was a 57 per cent drop in handheld phone use, and texting dropped by nearly three-quarters. NHTSA next plans to test the same three-part formula of tough laws, strong enforcement and ongoing public awareness at the statewide level.

Across the U.S., 34 states, the District of Columbia and Guam have enacted texting bans, while nine states, D.C. and the Virgin Islands have prohibited all handheld cell phone use while driving.

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