The writer, of Washington, D.C., is chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board.
Our connected world enables us to do many things better and faster. We can monitor the markets in real time, we can respond to emails and texts immediately, and we can check the score of the game as it is happening.
One thing these connections don’t help us do is drive.
On Jan. 28, the Nebraska Legislature held a hearing on improving driver safety. The NTSB was pleased to participate in these proceedings to share the lessons we’ve learned from too many crash investigations.
Drivers distracted by personal electronic devices have been involved in numerous highway crashes. We do not need another one to learn again that distraction and driving do not mix.
Legislative Bill 807 would make texting a primary offense in Nebraska, which is a step forward in addressing NTSB’s recommendations on distractions. Strong laws combined with enforcement and education are the keys to changing behavior.
Virginia recently reported that more than 700 people have been convicted of texting- while-driving since the state made it a primary offense in 2013. And driver behavior changed, as indicated by a recent AAA poll, which showed that many drivers stopped text- ing-while-driving after the law had been enacted.
The NTSB also has long recommended to the states to make not wearing a seat belt a primary offense. We know that when crashes happen, seat belts are the best defense against injuries and fatalities. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that from 1975 through 2011, seat belts saved more than 292,000 lives in the U.S.
Like texting laws, primary enforcement of seat belts results in greater awareness and a higher rate of use. In Nebraska, the rate of seat-belt usage is only 78 percent. Enacting Legislative Bill 807 could increase use by as much as 10 percentage points.
We are encouraged that 37 states and Washington, D.C., currently ban texting for all drivers and that 33 states and Washington, D.C., allow primary enforcement of seat-belt laws. By passing this law, Nebraska would continue the momentum in statehouses across the country to address this dangerous form of driver distraction and encourage seat-belt use for all.
By discouraging unsafe driving behaviors, these laws would result in fewer tragedies, like the car crash involving a distracted teen driver that killed Cady Reynolds of Omaha in 2007. Since then, Cady’s parents and siblings have advocated tirelessly for stronger traffic safety laws. And there are thousands more like the Reynoldses who have tragic stories to tell.
Passage of LB 807 is an important step that would make Nebraska’s roads safer for all those who travel on them.