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California needs to get serious about distracted driving

Research shows that distracted driving is as dangerous as driving drunk.
Research shows that distracted driving is as dangerous as driving drunk. Dreamstime/TNS

Our vehicles are full of electronic sensors, cameras and other technological advances to make driving dramatically safer than in the past.

But on the flipside, too many drivers think they can successfully multitask on their smartphones while they maneuver a 3,000-pound car.

Brian Marvel headshot.jpg
Brian R. Marvel

Senate Bill 1030, which is to be heard Tuesday by the Senate Transportation Committee, aims to dramatically reduce distracted driving on California roads. This bill, by Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, will strengthen the state’s highway safety laws by making distracted driving a moving violation and adding a point to the driver's record.

Current laws prohibit holding an electronic device while driving and ban texting as a primary offense. Despite these laws, 50,000 citations were issued to drivers for using their phones in 2017 alone. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Drivers routinely text, watch videos and take selfies. The increasing popularity of "infotainment apps" are causing even greater distractions as people shop, read news and catch up on sports, all while driving.

Opinion

Given the high number of distracted driving-related accidents, current law is clearly not enough of a deterrent. Studies have shown that primary enforcement of seat-belt laws and an increase in penalties have led to an increase in usage. The same rationale applies here. Fourteen other states add a point to a driver's record for distracted driving.

The epidemic of distracted driving is causing more accidents, injuries and fatalities on our roads. Preliminary numbers show that 2017 was the second consecutive year that motor vehicle deaths surpassed 40,000. Another 6,000 pedestrians were killed. Distracted driving is a main cause.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that driving a vehicle while texting is six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated. So why doesn't the law deter distracted drivers with stronger consequences?

Whether you are a busy professional multitasking or a teenager posting to social media, distracted driving can no longer be thought of as acceptable behavior. One critical way to change behavior is to establish harsher consequences and punishments.

Senators should treat distracted driving as the dangerous hazard that it is and support SB 1030.

Brian R. Marvel is president of the Peace Officers Research Association of California. He can be contacted at president@porac.org.
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