The Senior Research Associate for Public Affairs of the Auto Club of Southern California, Steven Bloch, PhD, is encouraged by a recent national study indicating that texting bans targeting teens reduced teen fatalities by 11 percent. “Texting has changed the driving experience, because there is an expectation of a quick response,” he said. “And so it is a bad combination with young inexperienced drivers.” He is still concerned that there remains a need for a more effective approach for legislation to create incentive for the public to not be fooled by our own sense of infallibility when it comes to operating mobile devices from behind the wheel.
In August 2013 Bloch completed research on the successes and failures of California mobile phone driving bans that revealed while the public overwhelmingly acknowledges the danger of using mobile phones while driving, people use the devices anyway believing that they are able to do it safely. Bloch’s findings also point to safety concerns arising from the combination of 1) devices becoming more affordable, such as GPS and other gadgets that allow for multitasking while driving, and 2) a growing younger population using these devices making up a greater percentage of the driving population.
During his tenure as a State Assemblyman and Senator, Santa Clara County Supervisor, Joe Simitian, sponsored three laws that set limits for mobile phone use while driving. They include: SB1613, requiring mobile devices to be hands free while driving; SB33, teen safe driving legislation that bans minors from using any device; and SB28, prohibits texting while driving. “Parents can use the force of law to get behind the conversation about not using mobile devices while driving,” he said.
Both Bloch and Simitian agree that effective legislation involves public awareness, appropriate incentive (penalty), and consistent enforcement. New legislation recently introduced by State Assemblymember Jim Frazier (who was not available for comment at the writing of this article), AB1646 would levy points on the driver record (thereby impacting insurance costs) for violation of mobile device use while driving. “Effective legislation inspires learning to make choices that reflect our values,” Bloch said. In this way, he perceives legislation like AB1646 as a symbol of what we value, such as public safety. “AB1646 is probably a smart way to go,” Simitian said. “Sometimes it is a matter of trying things piece by piece to achieve better results.”
Whatever the landscape of driver-device laws, one thing is certain: our children pay more attention to our example. And so when they see parents put down the phone and drive, the chances are greater they will do the same.