By U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and John Hoeven
Whether it is sending a text, reading an email, or changing stations on the radio, it only takes a moment of distraction to cause a tragedy. In fact, research shows if a driver takes their eyes off the road for just 5 seconds at 55 mph they will travel the entire length of a football field. When you think about driving that far, that fast, without paying attention, it’s not hard to see the potential for disaster.
Unfortunately, drivers are taking that risk and the numbers are staggering. In fact, a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that nearly half of all U.S. high school students admitted to texting or emailing while driving. Every day, nine people die and more than 1,000 are injured due to crashes involving distracted driving. In 2012 alone there was an estimated 421,000 people injured in crashes involving a distracted driver.
But these numbers don’t tell the story of the real people who have lost their lives and whose families are still suffering. Take the Logan family from Byron, Minnesota who lost their daughter Deej to distracted driving in 2012. In the afternoon on the first day of her senior year, Deej was killed when she looked down to send a text and ran into the back of a school bus. She was just 17 years old.
Tragedies like this are occurring in Minnesota, North Dakota and across America. They are a stark reminder that putting a stop to distracted driving is a matter of life and death. It is also a call to action and why we have introduced bipartisan legislation that would bring resources to states taking a stand against distracted driving. The Improving Driver Safety Act would expand access to an existing grant program that provides funds to states to boost enforcement laws and educate the public on the dangers of distracted driving.
Unfortunately, too many states are being prevented from receiving this important funding. In 2013, out of 38 states that applied for grants only seven qualified, leaving more than 50% in available funds unused. This year only one state benefitted from the program and 70% of the funding was left unused. This makes no sense.
Our bill would expand access to these distracted driving grants by adjusting the requirements to ensure more states, including Minnesota and North Dakota, that are taking steps to curb distracted driving aren’t prevented from receiving funds. For example, if a state passes a law that bans texts messaging and makes it a primary offense that state would be rewarded for moving in the right direction. Without our bill, that state would receive no support at all.
While these steps are important, there is no single law that will end distracted driving. Instead, we need to start changing attitudes and raising awareness. It has been done before – in 1970, fewer than 15% of Americans used seatbelts. Following a comprehensive education campaign by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that number is now near an all-time historic high of 84 percent. That same progress can be made with distracted driving.
To be successful, we each need to take responsibly and realize there is no text message worth dying for. We must reaffirm our commitment to paying attention behind the wheel and improving safety on our roads. Together we can help ensure no one will have to face the same tragedy the Logan family has had to endure.