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Most Americans support tougher distracted driving laws, poll shows

Eighty-six percent back laws requiring drivers to use hands-free cell phone technology

Distracted driving concept
Photo (c) Mongkol Chuewong - Getty Images
Several months into the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a dramatic drop in the number of cars on American roads and highways. But surprisingly, there was also a dramatic increase in the number of traffic accidents and fatalities.

How could that be? Some traffic safety experts suspect distracted driving – specifically, drivers moving at high speeds while looking at their smartphones.

The National Safety Council reports that drivers on their cell phones cause an estimated 1.6 million traffic accidents each year. The same report estimates that 390,000 injuries are caused each year by someone texting while driving.

A new poll by Nationwide Insurance shows that the American public wants new laws to address the problem. For example, the survey shows that 86% of people who offered an opinion want laws that require any driver on a cell phone to use it in a hands-free mode.

"Despite fewer people on roads and highways during the pandemic more people are dying in fatal crashes," said Nationwide CEO Kirt Walker. "While it isn't practical to remove every distraction from motor vehicles, making it a primary offense for the use of handheld devices will reduce crashes and save lives.”

Drowsy driving is also a problem

To be fair, not all distracted driving is the result of someone reading or sending a text. Victoria Wildhorn, a writer at Pillar4 Media, wrote extensively on the topic in late 2021. She tells ConsumerAffairs that her research shows that 17.3% of respondents in a AAA survey admitted to driving while being so tired they had a hard time keeping their eyes open.

She found that adults between the ages of 18 and 29 were 19% more likely to drive while drowsy than people who are older. She says a Brigham and Woman’s Hospital study showed that people with severe sleep apnea had a 123% increased risk of being in a traffic accident.

Walker says hands-free laws would make a huge contribution toward reducing accidents. He says there is plenty of research showing that hands-free primary legislation is effective at reducing traffic accidents.

“A 2018 analysis showed that states that enact this type of legislation experienced a 15% decrease in auto crash-related fatalities two years after the enactment of this type of law,” Walker said. “Six states in that same analysis saw a decrease of more than 20% in fatality rates."

At the moment, only 24 states have this kind of legislation on the books. Twenty-one states are actively considering such laws.

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