“Driver inattention” is the primary contributing factor in auto accidents and near-crashes, according to SafeNY.ny.gov. When you look away from the road for even a few seconds, you immediately put yourself and everyone around you at risk of being seriously injured or killed in a crash.
Are New York distracted driving laws doing enough to prevent these kinds of accidents? Based on a study published earlier this year, it would be safe to say that they are certainly helping the situation.
New York Distracted Driving Laws
Distracted driving laws vary widely across the country. In some states, you can be stopped for using your phone or any electronic device. In other states, you can only be punished for texting if an officer sees you doing it and has another reason for pulling you over.
In the state of New York, texting behind the wheel is banned for all drivers. The state also prohibits the use of hand-held phones, requiring drivers to use hands-free technology. You cannot e-mail, surf the Web, play games or dial a friend while driving in New York.
Additionally, the distracted driving laws in New York are “primary” laws. This means that a law enforcement officer can pull you over for violating the state’s distracted driving laws even when the officer has no other reason to stop you. (In states that have “secondary” laws, an officer must have witnessed another traffic infraction in order to pull you over and issue a ticket for distracted driving.)
Study Finds that Primary Laws are Most Effective
A study published in January of this year by researchers with the University of Alabama at Birmingham sought to identify what makes distracted driving laws effective. In the first study of its kind, researchers analyzed accident rates before and after laws were passed in states across the country. Based on those rates, researchers assessed the effectiveness of the various distracted driving laws.
Published in the American Journal of Public Health, the study found that laws such as those in New York have proven to be the most effective at helping to reduce distracted driving accidents.
According to a press release from the university, primary texting bans were associated with a three percent reduction in traffic fatalities across all age groups. While three percent may not seem like much, it equates to an average of 19 lives saved in states where primary laws are enforced, according to the researchers.
Laws that applied to only young drivers were also effective. They were associated with reducing deaths among the 15 to 21 age group at a rate of 11 percent.
Unfortunately, among states with secondary enforcement laws, the study found no significant reductions in traffic fatalities.
Primary Laws Work, But Distraction Remains a Problem
Based on this study, laws such as those in New York can help to reduce distracted driving accidents. However, we cannot rely on laws alone to eliminate them.
We need an overall change in thinking. This requires a concentrated effort from multiple parties. Lawmakers and police officers are only a part of that equation. We also need schools, parents and employers to spread awareness about the dangers of driving while distracted. Individually, we all have a responsibility to put our electronics down and focus on the road.