1.3 General driver fatigue and distraction laws
States implicitly prohibit driving while seriously distracted or fatigued through their reckless driving laws (NCHRP, under review, Strategy C2). New Jersey recently enacted a law under which drivers can be prosecuted for vehicular homicide if they have not slept in 24 hours and they cause a crash in which someone is killed (NCHRP, under review, Strategy C2). Massachusetts is considering a bill that would make it illegal to fall asleep while driving (NSF, 2005a).
No studies have evaluated whether general reckless driving laws or specific drowsy or distracted driving laws have any effect (except for New York 's cell phone law: see Chapter 4, Section 1.1). Based on extensive experience in other traffic safety areas, it is likely that these laws will have little or no effect unless they are vigorously publicized and enforced. See Chapter 1, Sections 2.1 and 5.5 on alcohol-impaired driving, Chapter 2, Sections 2.1, 3.1, and 3.2, on safety belt use laws, and Chapter 3, Sections 2.1 and 4.1, on aggressive driving and speeding laws. Enforcement of fatigued or distracted driving laws is likely to be especially difficult because fatigue and distraction often are difficult to observe, measure, and document. Nevertheless, these laws may increase the impact of communications and outreach efforts to reduce fatigued and distracted driving discussed in Chapter 4, Sections 2.1 and 2.2 (see also NCHRP, under review, Strategy C2).
Use: New Jersey is the only State with a law explicitly addressing fatigued driving or distractions other than cell phones (Chapter 4, Section 1.1). Other States include these conditions under their laws regarding reckless driving or similar offenses.
Effectiveness: The effects of any laws on reducing drowsy or distracted driving are unknown.
Costs: Costs are required for publicity and enforcement. Enforcement costs likely will be minimal, as most enforcement likely will be included under regular traffic patrols or combined with enforcement activities directed primarily at other offenses such as alcohol-impaired or aggressive driving.Time to implement: A new fatigued or distracted driving law can be implemented quickly, as soon as it is publicized and law enforcement patrol officers are trained.