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State, national transportation agencies step up battle to eliminate distracted driving as deaths, injuries pile up

Ed Blazina, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Automotive News

In December, a poll by the agency found that 84% of those surveyed were "extremely" or "very" concerned about distracted drivers and thought officials aren't doing enough to stop the behavior or improve vehicle technology to reduce crashes.

But in another survey in March, 70% of drivers said they had used their cellphone while driving in the previous 90 days.

Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, called distracted drivers "a plague on our roads."

"One in three people involved in or knowing someone in a distracted driving crash where mobile device use was a factor should send off blaring alarms that urgent action is needed to address this public health calamity on our roadways," Ms. Chase said. "The public understands this hazard and strongly supports numerous strategies to prevent distraction and its impacts, especially requiring advanced vehicle safety technologies in all new vehicles, which continues to be a top priority of Advocates."

Last week, the Pennsylvania court system issued a news release in which it said citations for distracted driving across the state had fallen substantially in the past two years, from 4,292 in 2019 to 2,163 in 2021. There was a 47% drop from 2019 to 2020, followed by a 6% in 2021.

Pennsylvania State Police and state accident statistics show that the drop in citations doesn't necessarily mean there has been a reduction in distracted driving. Drivers can be cited for texting while driving, eating and other actions that take attention off the roadway.

 

Police Cpl. Brent Miller said state troopers were instructed not to enforce distracted driving laws from early 2020 through mid-2021 to maintain social distancing during the height of the pandemic.

"Our enforcement efforts weren't up to par," Cpl. Miller said. "I think the numbers for citations for distracted driving in most categories for a full year of enforcement will be higher."

PennDOT spokeswoman Jennifer Kuntch said the reduction in citations didn't seem to be reflected in accident statistics. Preliminary data for 2021 showed fatalities in crashes involving distracted drivers increased by 25% and serious injuries by 17%, although the full data is not yet available.

In 2020, 47 fatalities were linked to distracted drivers and 62 in 2019.

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