ATA Supports Federal Legislation to Help States Curb Cellphone Use for All Motorists

Driver on cellphone
"There is no federal law preventing passenger vehicle drivers from using hand-held mobile devices while driving.” (AndreyPopov/Getty Images)

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American Trucking Associations has announced its support for federal legislation aimed at helping states curb distracted driving using cellphones for all motorists, a leading cause of highway accidents and fatalities.

The bipartisan Safe to Drive Act was introduced in February in both the House and Senate. It would require the U.S. Department of Transportation to use up to 25% of available funding for national priority safety program grants to any state that certifies it has enacted a distracted driving statute that is applicable to drivers of all ages, makes a violation of the statute a primary offense, and prohibits texting or all non-navigational viewing of a personal wireless communications device while driving.

“The trucking industry knows all too well the dangers of distracted driving and the threat it poses to all motorists, not just our professional truck drivers whose workplace is our nation’s roadways,” ATA Vice President of Safety Policy Dan Horvath wrote in a March 26 letter to Senate and House transportation leaders. “Ensuring all drivers are educated about the dangers of distracted driving, and effective enforcement of common-sense highway safety laws, will greatly aid our shared goal of zero highway fatalities.”

SAFE to DRIVE Act ATA Lette... by Transport Topics

He continued: “Given data showing the majority of car-truck collisions are the result of passenger driver behavior, extending those bans to all drivers and not just truck drivers will have a positive impact on safety.”

For example, ATA said that federal regulations prohibit commercial motor vehicle drivers from using a handheld mobile device at any time while driving, including while stopped at traffic control devices.

“And although 70% of fatal crashes involving a large truck and a passenger vehicle are initiated by the actions of, or are the fault of, a passenger vehicle, there is no federal law preventing passenger vehicle drivers from using hand-held mobile devices while driving,” Horvath wrote. “Our nation’s professional truck drivers see distracted drivers all the time, and, unfortunately, no level of defensive driving can prevent all accidents from occurring.”

Steve Fields, a professional truck driver with YRC Freight, said March 30 in an ATA statement that he is “shocked” to see the amount of distracted driving on the nation’s highways.

“I have seen everything from texting, to putting makeup on, to even reading a newspaper while driving,” Fields said. “Taking your eyes off of the road for just two seconds compromises highway safety. Anything we can do to reduce distraction is a good thing.”

Horvath wrote that ATA believes that the Safe to Drive Act is a “tremendous opportunity” to focus greater resources and attention to accidents that our professional drivers cannot easily anticipate — those caused by distracted passenger motorists.

“In commercial trucking, we require drivers to keep their eyes on the road ahead at all times — and we should expect the same vigilance of every motorist on the road,” Horvath wrote. “Sadly, convenient access to social media and streaming services has only increased the number of potential road hazards, leading to increases in the quantity and severity of distracted driving incidents.”

Horvath noted that in 2019, the number of fatalities in distraction-affected crashes was 3,142, or 8.7% of all fatalities that year. “This represents an increase of 284 more fatalities than the previous year — an increase of 9.9%,” he said. “This trend is unacceptable for highway safety. Although numerous factors contribute to highway crashes, driver distraction as a result of mobile devices is not accidental. Moreover, it is completely preventable.”

“When drivers take their eyes off of the road, they endanger themselves, other drivers, and pedestrians,” said Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a co-sponsor of the bill. “This legislation will help ensure states have the resources to create safer roads for all and, ultimately, save lives.”

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