Every year, thousands of people die in distracted driving accidents. In recent years, a patchwork of laws has been passed in states across the country—laws that vary in scope and penalties. But which laws are most effective at keeping people safe?
There are many distractions behind the wheel. But perhaps the most common one is technology. Our phones and navigational systems take our minds, eyes and hands away from their primary purpose when driving. Such distractions can significantly increase your risk of an accident.
How Distracted Driving Laws Vary
Distracted driving laws are relatively new. In the past, if your distraction caused an accident, you could certainly be charged with careless or reckless driving, but there was no specific law barring distraction. Now, things are different.
In some states, texting is the only distracting activity banned behind the wheel. In New York and New Jersey, all hand-held cell phone use is banned. In order to use your phone while driving, you must use hands-free tools.
In some states, distracted driving laws are known as “primary” and as “secondary” laws in other states. These terms refer to how the police are able to enforce the texting or phone bans.
A primary law is one that allows police to pull a driver over when they see the driver using a phone in violation of the law. A secondary law, however, requires the officer to witness another traffic violation before making the stop.
In other words, if you are distracted but otherwise driving safely, the police cannot stop you in states with secondary distracted driving laws.
In New York and New Jersey, the distracted driving laws are primary enforcement laws.
What Distracted Driving Laws Work Best?
A study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health sought to determine which distracted driving laws are the most effective at saving lives.
According to a press release from the university, the lead researcher examined in-state changes in highway fatalities after texting-while-driving bans were enacted over a 10-year period.
The study concluded that states with primary enforcement bans have seen the greatest increase in highway safety. In fact, primary texting bans were associated with a three percent reduction in accident fatalities among all age groups. In states with such bans, that equates to about 19 saved lives each year.
While one would think secondary laws would have some effect, the study did not find that to be the case. On the contrary, states with secondary enforcement laws saw no significant reductions in traffic accident deaths, according to researchers.
This study should be analyzed by lawmakers in states with secondary laws. It may prompt those states to change their laws to ones that allow for primary enforcement.
For people in New Jersey and New York, distracted driving laws may seem like an inconvenience. However, as this study shows, these laws clearly are working to keep us safer.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the most common legislative approach to reduce distracted driving is to ban texting and hand-held phone use, as well as to prohibit all cell phone use for certain populations, including for teen drivers and school bus operators.
Currently, 24 states prohibit all drivers from using handheld cellphones while driving. However, no state bans all cellphone use for all drivers. 36 states and Washington, D.C. ban all cellphone use by novice or teen drivers. 23 states and Washington, D.C. ban any cellphone use for school bus drivers. 48 states ban text messaging while driving. As more states realize the tremendous risks of distracted driving, they continue to change their laws. You can check the Governors Highway Safety Association site for the most recent changes in state distracted driving laws.
Until there are no more distracted driving accidents that claim the lives of victims throughout our community, Davis, Saperstein & Salomon, P.C. will continue to protect the rights of accident victims.
If you or a loved one was injured in a distracted driving accident, contact us today to receive a free review of your case and an explanation of your legal options.
This post was originally published in August 2014 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness in August 2021.