In 2009, 20 percent of traffic accidents were due to distracted driving – drivers that are too busy talking or texting on their cell phones – killing 5,474 people and injuring 450,000. That makes it the largest single cause of accidents after drunk driving, according to Consumer Reports.
16 percent of all teenage drivers involved in a fatal crash were reported to have been distracted while driving. Among survey respondents under 30 years old, 63 percent reported using a handheld phone while driving within the previous 30 days; almost 1 in 3 texted behind the wheel.
The US Department of Transportation (DOT) held a conference (streamed live on the Web), kicking off a national campaign to educate the public about distracted driving. There are three aspects to the campaign hoping to reduce driver distractions:
- A television public service announcement (embedded above), with three drivers carrying on trivial conversations converging in an intersection.
- An online push called "Faces of Distracted Driving" available at distraction.gov, in which victims tell their own stories on video. Victims stories have been a powerful tool in combating drunk driving, and DOT expects it will make a difference with distracted driving, as well.
- A pamphlet (PDF) jointly produced by DOT and Consumer Reports.
"Twenty years ago, we [DOT] started the 'Click it or ticket' seatbelt campaign," Ray LaHood, secretary of the US Department of Transportation, said in a statement. "Today, 85 percent of people now use their seat belts because they know if they don't, they run the risk of being fined. Ten years from now, that's where we want to be: That people will be putting their texting device in their glove boxes rather than use them while driving."