GHSA officials toughen policies on distracted driving, drugged driving

312490_man_talking_on_the_cell_phone.jpgThis week, the Governor's Highway Safety Association (GHSA) recommended a nationwide ban on the use of hand-held cell phones while driving, the Washington Post reports. The Association maintains that such a ban would help law enforcement officers enforce state laws related to texting and driving, which has proven to be problematic. Currently, only 10 states and Washington D.C. ban handheld cell phones in drivers, but 39 states have implementing texting bans. In states that allow drivers to use handheld phones, drivers who are stopped for texting and driving offenses often claim that they were dialing numbers on their cell phones.

GHSA officials have previously recommended text message bans for all U.S. drivers and a ban on handheld devices for novice and school bus drivers. In recommending the total ban, the Association also hopes to raise awareness about the risks of driving while using electronic devices in any fashion. "Passage of these laws will provide states a practical platform for discussing why any phone use while driving is dangerous," said Barbara Harsha, GHSA's Executive Director, in a recent news release.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an estimated 660,000 drivers were using handheld phones at a typical daylight moment in 2010. That's approximately 5% of the U.S. driving population. Frighteningly, a Carnegie Mellon study determined that talking on a handheld phone reduces the amount of brain activity connected to driving by 37%. Some form of distraction is believed to be a contributing factor in about a quarter of all car crashes: 3,092 Americans died and 416,000 were injured in 2010 distracted driving crashes.

Missouri is one of only 11 states that have yet to enact texting and driving bans: our state's only distracted driving law prohibits texting in drivers age 21 and younger.

In addition, the GHSA has broadened its drugged driving policy to support per se laws, commonly referred to as zero tolerance laws. Under the terms of these laws, individuals can be charged with driving while impaired simply because a drug is found in their system. Officials also recommend that states adopt enhanced penalties for drivers who are found to be under the influence of more than one drug, like alcohol and another drug, or multiple drugs other than alcohol.

In making these recommendations, the GHSA cites 2007 NHTSA data, which revealed that 16.3% of nighttime drivers stopped in a Random Roadside Survey tested positive for drugs. 17 states have passed per se laws that prohibit illegal substances in a driver's body, according to the Association. Missouri is not one of those states.

The GHSA is comprised of each state's chief highway safety officers.

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