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‘Hands-free’ laws would make roads safer

‘Hands-free’ laws would make roads safer

by Kirt Walker, Chief Executive Officer, Nationwide Insurance

We’ve all been there, behind “that” driver. The one driving erratically with one hand on the wheel, the other hand holding a mobile device, looking down and typing, oblivious to the people he is endangering around him or in his own car.
And with the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association telling us there are currently more than 1.2 wireless device subscriptions per American, the problem is only getting worse.
Some say distracted driving is on its way to becoming an even more pervasive threat than drunken driving.
The National Safety Council estimates that 1 in 4 motor vehicle crashes are attributable to mobile phone usage and we at Nationwide can attest first-hand that these types of crashes are increasing the frequency and severity of the claims we pay out to our members. With a recent average of 37,000 deaths per year on our roadways, countless lives could have been saved and many more serious, life-changing injuries prevented if drivers’ attitudes were changed about driving while holding a mobile device.
Compounding the issue is a patchwork of laws at the city, county and state levels across the country that make it difficult to prevent smartphone-related crashes. A recent study by the Ohio State University Risk Institute sponsored by the Ohio Department of Transportation reported that while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs remains law enforcement’s No. 1 priority, mobile phone usage has now surpassed both seat-belt usage and speeding as an enforcement priority.
As a mutual insurance company that exists to serve and protect its members, we at Nationwide believe now is the time to bring consistency to roadways across the country. We feel a moral imperative to create a mindset where distracted driving is viewed as just as culturally unacceptable and undesirable as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
That’s why our organization is advocating for hands-free laws to be passed in all 50 states as soon as possible. Currently, only 21 states, including Georgia, Arizona, and Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, have such laws on the books. We believe that drivers should have their eyes on the roadways instead of emailing, texting, shopping, posting, liking, viewing, watching or any other distraction caused by holding a cellphone. Our own internal testing has shown that hands-free devices have the potential to reduce in-vehicle distraction by up to 40%.
The hands-free approach is practical and effective. A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institution confirmed that frequent cellphone users have more near misses and crashes. And the near-miss/crash rate nearly triples when handling the phone while driving.
A review of data provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to the Ohio Distracted Driving Task Force revealed that states implementing hands-free legislation experienced an average 15.3% decrease in fatality rates within two years after their law was enacted.
We are proud to support Gov. Mike DeWine’s recent announcement to strengthen Ohio’s distracted driving laws as developed by a statewide Distracted Driving Task Force. We believe so strongly in the hands-free approach that we are also urging the National Council of Insurance Legislators to draft model legislation that other states can consider for implementation across the country.
We support enabling law enforcement to ticket drivers who are holding a mobile device while operating a motor vehicle, including texting, viewing videos or images, entering data, talking or broadcasting content. We also believe it is reasonable to make exceptions for emergencies, for voice-activated technology like Alexa or Siri, for navigation and for “single swipe” activation as long as the device is not held by the driver.
Although hands-free is not risk free, these laws are practical, enforceable and have proved to be effective in reducing highway fatalities, saving lives, reducing auto crashes and making roads safer.
As a company committed to protecting people, businesses and futures with extraordinary care, we’re looking forward to working with officials across the country to raise awareness and to advocate for this change to keep all eyes on the road and both hands on the wheel.
In the meantime, please join me in putting down the phone as we share the roads.

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