Careless driving is serious issue for everyone

As we all know, careless driving has become a very serious problem. In New York, at least one out of five motor vehicle crashes has distracted driving listed as a contributing factor. In 2009, nearly 5,500 people died in crashes involving a distracted or inattentive driver and more than 440,000 were injured.

As commissioner of the New York state Department of Motor Vehicles and Chair of the Governor's Traffic Safety Committee, I was honored to be invited recently to attend U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood's second Summit on Distracted Driving in Washington, D.C. Also participating at that meeting were leading national transportation officials, safety advocates, law enforcement agencies, industry representatives, researchers and victims affected by distraction- related crashes. Together, we addressed challenges and identified opportunities for national anti-distracted driving efforts.

Secretary LaHood refers to distracted driving as a "deadly epidemic." I could not agree more. As part of his distracted driving initiative, New York was one of only two states selected to receive a $300,000 federal grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to develop a pilot program that targets distracted driving.

The pilot project, launched in Syracuse last April, is called "Phone in One Hand. Ticket in the Other." It uses a combination of high-visibility enforcement and increased public education to convince motorists to put down their cell phones while driving. For the public education component, a public service announcement focusing on the dangers of distracted driving was developed that features several different motorists talking on their cell phones or texting while driving and the crashes that result from their inattention. For the enforcement component, the first 10 day wave in April resulted in 2,300 tickets being issued for either talking on a cell phone or texting while driving. The second wave in July resulted in nearly 2,150 tickets being issued. A third wave of education and enforcement is scheduled for October, with the final wave being conducted next April.
In conjunction with the Distracted Driving Summit, the National Highway Traffic Safety Committee released a distracted driving report on results of the Syracuse program thus far. According to that report, since the inception of the program, hand-held phone use while driving dropped 38 percent and texting while driving decreased 42 percent in Syracuse.