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The History of Distracted Driving Laws

With smartphones, smartwatches, Bluetooth, tablets, and all of the other forms of technology that we have access to, the risk of distracted driving is at an all-time high — in fact, higher than it has ever been

There are two things that people fail to realize. One of those things is that when you are distracted and driving, you do not have proper control over your vehicle because your attention is split. 

The second thing is that driving while distracted can land you in a whirlwind of trouble.

Not only can you injure yourself, but you can also injure others, total your car or other cars, you can receive a ticket or jail time (in worst-case scenarios), and you can even end up with higher insurance rates.

Depending on how bad an accident is because of distracted driving, you can either receive a ticket or a felony charge.

If you are lucky enough to only get a ticket, you may want to research what kind of tickets affect your insurance because the next step may be your insurance provider charging you with higher rates. 

With new laws being implemented against these acts, it may be easy to assume that distracted driving is a newer problem but it is not. Examples of distracted driving have been around since the mid-1950s. 

Knowing the history behind distracted driving can help you to be a safer driver.

Distracted Driving: Where it All Began

Did you know that 42 percent of high school students who drive have reported sending a text while driving in 2017? Well, that percentage is pretty high considering studies for distracted driving date all the way back to 1963. 

For the purpose of research, scientist John Senders drove while blindfolded. He was tasked with this assignment from what at the time was known as The Bureau of Public Roads (now called the Federal Highway Administration).

Senders was tasked to figure out how much time a driver needed to spend observing the roads in order to drive effectively. To come up with this time, he drove a Dodge Polara on I-495 in Massachusetts while wearing a motorcycle helmet. 

The helmet had a sandblasted opaque shield attached to it that was made to flip down in front of his eyes sporadically while driving. When the shield flipped down, he could not see anything until he signaled the shield to lift back up after a fraction of a second passed. 

His findings from this study led to him creating the occluded vision paradigm as a measure of attentional demand, which is currently part of the protocol for assessing distraction while driving in studies today. 

Not too long after his study, the United States government passed the Highway Safety Act in 1970 which implemented the driving laws from 1966 until now.

First Rounds of Mobile Technology: Audio Systems

John Senders was one of the first scientists to conduct a study on distracted driving. Later in life he even received an Ig Nobel Prize in Public Safety for his study, “The Attentional Demand of Automobile Driving,” but he was not the first example of distracted driving.

It can be assumed that distracted driving began in the 1950s when the audio systems were crafted into vehicles. Chrysler introduced the Highway HiFi in 1956. The Highway HiFi was a mobile record player that unintentionally encouraged distracted driving.

From the mobile record player came cd players, music stations, and iPods, all of which only contributed more to distracted driving. 

As lawmakers began to toughen up on occurrences of distracted driving, the car industry began making advancements in order to lower distracted driving.

The advancements are how we ended up with Bluetooth, driving modes on cell phones, and handsfree talking systems. 

How Cell Phones Made Distracted Driving Worse

To unintentionally ramp up the instances of distracted driving, cellular telephones were introduced in 1983. When 1997 rolled in, the CTIA, short for Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, had over 50 million customers using cellular phones.

This number led to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launching one of the first studies on how cellular phones impact driving. This study led to more studies later on, to the creation of common cell phone and driving laws that are in place today. 

Law Enforcement’s Stand Against Texting and Driving

Surprisingly, despite the high number of distracted driving from cell phone usage, a ban against texting and driving did not occur until 1992. So it took a good 10 years of texting and driving before a firm stance was taken against this form of distracted driving.

Florida was the first state in 1992 to ban the use of any form of a mobile communication device while driving. In addition to banning that, they also placed laws against using headsets or any other listening device while driving in the same year.

Arizona was the second state to follow by placing certain restrictions against hand-held communication devices while driving. Other states did not follow along until 2001. As more states adopted bans and restrictions, police officers began enforcing distracted driving laws more.

A larger law was passed on April 15, 2010, called the Commonwealth House Bill 415. This bill was signed into law and banned texting for drivers of all ages while a vehicle is in motion.

Navigating Distracted Driving Today

To this day, laws and bans are still being altered to fit the current evolution of technology. 

Georgia just recently passed a new distracted driving law into place in July of 2018. This law prohibits and disciplines anyone who has a cellular phone in their possession at all while driving. 

As of now, there are 48 states, D.C., Guam, and the Virgin Islands who have banned texting and driving. In Kentucky, school bus drivers and drivers who are younger than 18 are banned from using their cell phones at all.

Though there are not many states that explicitly ban teens from texting while driving, other states are still encouraging parents to help prevent their teens from distracted driving

According to the CDC, “Drivers under the age of 20 have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes.” As you can see, distracted driving is nowhere near being eradicated from the roads, especially when it comes to young drivers.

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