Continued from page 1

The increase in texting while driving came even though many states have banned the practice, and that’s alarming, said Jonathan Adkins, a spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association.

“It is clear that educational messages alone aren’t going to change their behavior,” Adkins said. “Rather, good laws with strong enforcement are what is needed. Many drivers won’t stop texting until they fear getting a ticket.”

The safety administration reported earlier this year that pilot projects in Syracuse, N.Y., and Hartford, Conn., produced significant reductions in distracted driving by combining stepped-up ticketing with high-profile public education campaigns.

Before and after each enforcement wave, NHTSA researchers observed cellphone use by drivers and conducted surveys at drivers’ license offices in the two cities. They found that in Syracuse, hand-held cellphone use and texting declined by a third. In Hartford, there was a 57 percent drop in hand-held phone use, and texting behind the wheel dropped by nearly three-quarters.

However, that was with blanket enforcement by police.

“The key measure of all this is, do these restrictions reduce crashes? So far, there is no evidence that crashes are reduced when cellphone and texting restrictions are implemented,” Rader said.

But safety advocates are pushing for a national ban on texting while driving. A bill introduced by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., would cut back highway funds to states that fail to enact a ban. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has also advocated a national ban.

Overall, 32,885 people died in traffic crashes in the United States in 2010, a nearly 3 percent drop and the lowest number since 1949. Traffic deaths have been declining for several years. Safety researchers generally attribute the lower deaths to a decline in driving because of the poor economy combined with better designed and equipped cars and stronger safety laws.

Bucking the trend, there were 4,502 motorcycle deaths in 2010, a 0.7 percent increase. That may mean the sudden 16 percent decline in motorcycle deaths in 2009 is beginning to reverse. Overall, motorcycle deaths have doubled since 1995.


Follow Joan Lowy at



National Highway Traffic Safety Administration