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New Federal Grant Helps States Fight Distracted Driving

Distracted driving has become an important topic of concern in the U.S. According to NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) research, at least 3,092 people were killed in 2010 in distraction-affected auto accidents and accounted for approximately one in every ten fatalities on the nation’s roadways. To help combat this growing problem, the NHTSA has instituted a new grant program that will bestow $17.5 million on states with laws prohibited distracted driving.

There are currently no federal laws that prohibit distracted driving, but several states have already enacted legislation to try to deter drivers from falling victim to this all too common occurrence. Ten states and Washington, D.C., prohibit all handheld cell-phone use and nine of these states allow police officers to stop drivers without any other traffic offense taking place. Thirty-nine states and D.C. ban text messaging while driving and all but four of those states consider it a primary offense, not requiring another traffic infraction for enforcement. There are only 11 states that have not enacted any laws that address distracted driving.

On July 6, 2012, the President signed into law the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act” (MAP-21), Public Law 112-141, which created a new distracted driving grant program. MAP-21 authorizes the Secretary of Transportation to provide incentive grants to states that enact and enforce laws prohibiting distracted driving. MAP-21 authorizes $22.525 million in FY 2013 for the Distracted Driving Grant Program from the Highway Trust Fund. Of this amount, up to $5 million may be expended for the development and placement of broadcast media to support the enforcement of state distracted driving laws. After reserving $5 million for broadcast media support, $17.525 million is authorized in FY 2013 to provide grants.

This new grant program aims to reward states that make distracted driving a primary offense. For a state to qualify for the grant, it must have a comprehensive, primary law against distracted driving or a primary law prohibiting texting while driving, which allows law enforcement personnel to stop violators solely for distracted driving. States with secondary laws, which require law enforcement to observe a primary offense prior to enforcing the distraction law, would not be eligible.

The announcement of this new grant also coincided with the release of new distracted driving public service announcements (PSAs) aimed at young adults featuring scenes from FOX’s award-winning television series “Glee.” According to the NHTSA, 11% of all drivers under the age of 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crash. This age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted. The new PSAs, which are being released through the NHTSA, the Ad Council, Fox Home Entertainment, and the State Attorneys General and Consumer Protection Agencies, are part of the national “Stop the Texts. Stop the Wrecks.” campaign that launched in October 2011 to educate young drivers about the dangers of texting behind the wheel.


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