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It is difficult to convince or require drivers to avoid distractions while driving. Many drivers consider some distractions such as eating or drinking, listening to the radio, or talking on on cell phones, to be important and common activities and they are unlikely to give them up. Moreover, studies indicate that drivers themselves are poor judges of the performance decrements that result from distracting activities (Horrey et al., 2008). The 2015 National Survey on Distracted Driving Attitudes and Behaviors found that a large portion of drivers do not believe that their driving performance is affected by cell phone use, and that over half of drivers who talk on the phone while driving believe that their driving is the same while using cell phones (Schroeder et al., 2018).

Some States have investigated ways to counter distracted driving. For example, Oregon formed a distracted driving task force committee to identify the factors leading to distracted driving and to develop recommendations to mitigate the problem (Oregon Department of Transportation, 2017). The committee encouraged the revision of Oregon’s current cell phone law to make it more effective by enforcing, educating, citing, and convicting cell phone use violations, improving collection of crash and citation data, and increasing coordinated communication of strategies among stakeholders involved in reducing distracted driving. Other recommendations also included the increase in government and academic distracted driving research, the development of a public educational campaign, and the development of a distracted driving toolkit (research, education, policy, and enforcement resources) tailored to local communities.

Few studies have examined if the standard behavioral countermeasures of laws, enforcement, and sanctions (which are used successfully for impaired driving, seat belt use, aggressive driving, and speeding) are effective for distracted drivers. However, the results of three NHTSA demonstration projects, focused on HVE combined with paid and earned media, suggest that these elements show promise in reducing the use of handheld phones and texting (Cosgrove et al., 2011). Some GDL provisions help reduce distracted driving in young drivers by enforcing limits on the number of passengers and restrictions on cell phone use (see the Young Drivers chapter, Sections 1.3 to 1.5).

Job-related distracted driving may be reduced through employer policies and programs. Employer-based resources are available from the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety through The National Safety Council also provides resources to employers, including an online distracted driving course at Communications and outreach may be useful in raising awareness of specific distraction issues among certain high-risk populations. Currently, it is unknown if these strategies have been evaluated. As with the environmental and vehicular countermeasures mentioned below, commercial driver countermeasures are not discussed in this guide because they generally do not fall under the SHSO jurisdiction.

A variety of environmental and vehicular strategies have the potential to address distracted driving. Rumble strips, both on the shoulder and the centerline, have demonstrated their effectiveness in preventing crashes associated with inattention (Persaud et al., 2016). Other roadway improvements such as wide and visible edge lines, more easily visible road signs, and better lighting at night can help drivers who are not fully alert. Vehicular strategies also can address driver distraction. Collision avoidance technologies, such as lane departure warning, crash-imminent braking, and forward collision warning, and vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications technologies, hold promise for reducing crashes among drivers who are inattentive (IIHS, 2012; IIHS, 2014). Such technologies, once available only in luxury brands, are now offered in many new vehicles. Additionally, in-vehicle technology in the future may be able to detect driver distraction by monitoring driver performance and then alerting drivers (Aghaei et al., 2016; Donmez et al., 2007; Koesdwiady et al., 2016; Kuo et al., 2019). On the other hand, built-in technologies such as navigation and entertainment systems in vehicles may create more potential distractions (Strayer et al., 2017). NHTSA developed Visual-Manual Driver Distraction Guidelines for In-Vehicle Electronic Devices pertaining to original equipment in-vehicle electronic devices (78 Fed. Reg. 24,817, 2013). Although voluntary, the Guidelines encourage automobile manufactures to design in-vehicle devices so that potentially distracting tasks are limited while driving. This chapter only addresses behavioral strategies. It does not include environmental, vehicular, and engineering countermeasures because SHSOs generally do not have authority or responsibility in these areas.