Thursday, February 25, 2021

GHSA: New Research on Distracted Driving Laws and Enforcement


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February 24, 2021
CONTACT: Adam Snider, 202-580-7930
---------------202-365-8971 (after hours)
As Distracted Driving Deaths Increase,
New Research Highlights Resources to Strengthen Laws and Enforcement
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) today announced the release of the inaugural Behavioral Traffic Safety Cooperative Research Program (BTSCRP) report, Using Electronic Devices While Driving: Legislation and Enforcement Implications, published this morning by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Transportation Research Board (TRB) and funded through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Driver distraction remains a major roadway safety concern, and the impact of these preventable crashes are felt every day across the country. Crashes involving a distracted driver killed 3,142 people in 2019, up nearly 10 percent from the year before. When a person reads a text while driving, his or her eyes are off the road for an average of five seconds. At 55 miles per hour, that is like driving the length of a football field while blindfolded. Every state currently has restrictions in place to address distracted driving but the laws vary in scope and rigor. Additionally, some states - such as Ohio, Michigan and Utah - are considering legislation in 2021 to enhance their distracted driving laws. This new report can help inform state and local efforts to strengthen laws and address the issue comprehensively. 

Researchers at Westat reviewed distracted driving laws as well as enforcement and public education practices across the United States and Canada to develop a library of resources and best practices that states and other stakeholders can use to enact or revise their laws and enhance enforcement and education efforts. Researchers found that jurisdictions with strong traffic safety laws, supported by enforcement, public education and outreach, tend to have lower overall traffic fatality rates.

In the first phase of the project, researchers reviewed existing laws in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and 10 Canadian provinces; assessed the strength of these laws; and performed an in-depth review of 20 selected jurisdictions. The researchers found the most effective laws and state safety efforts had the following common elements: 

  • Unambiguous statutory language that clearly defines when and how a wireless device can and cannot be used
  • Penalties and fines in line with other traffic citations
  • A combination of high-visibility enforcement of the law and targeted public information, education and outreach campaigns
  • Sustained coalition-building efforts

Researchers used these findings to develop customized tools for different audiences such as model legislation; presentations to provide guidance to law enforcement, researchers and practitioners; a highlight document for legislators that outlines the benefits of strong distracted driving laws and key components to consider in crafting laws; and a model press release to publicize information on distracted driving legislation. They also identified future research needs and opportunities to further address, such as the effectiveness of certain elements of these laws and whether there are alternative ways to reduce distracted driving without legislation.

TRB will host a webinar on Monday, March 15, 1:00-2:30 p.m. ET, to discuss the report, distracted driving public awareness strategies and successes in various jurisdictions, and ways to share best practices with stakeholders.

This report is the first project released under BTSCRP, a collaboration between GHSA, NHTSA and TRB to increase understanding of behavioral traffic safety topics and propose practical solutions. Upcoming reports will address a wide range of road safety topics, including how infrastructure design impacts distracted driving, e-scooter safety, child safety in ride-hailing vehicles, traffic safety messaging on electronic signs, and employer-based behavioral traffic safety programs. 

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About GHSA
The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) is a nonprofit association representing the highway safety offices of states, territories, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. GHSA provides leadership and representation for the states and territories to improve traffic safety, influence national policy, enhance program management and promote best practices. Its members are appointed by their Governors to administer federal and state highway safety funds and implement state highway safety plans. Visit for more information or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

A forum for coordinated and collaborative research, BTSCRP is a federally authorized program that dedicates annual funding through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Since FFY 2018, the National Academies of Science Transportation Research Board (TRB) has managed BTSCRP through its cooperative research program. Learn more at
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