The two projects in Syracuse, N.Y., and Hartford, Conn., each of which was supported by $200,000 in federal funds and $100,000 from the state, examined whether increased police enforcement along with paid advertising and news media coverage could reduce distracted driving.
The pilot efforts used "Phone in One Hand, Ticket in the Other" as the media campaign theme and were structured similarly to the highly-successful national seat belt campaign, "Click It or Ticket."
During four periods of stepped up enforcement over the past year, Syracuse police issued 9,587 citations for driver violations involving talking or texting on cell phones while operating a vehicle. During the same period, police in Hartford issued 9,658 tickets for illegal phone use.
Before and after each enforcement wave, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration actively observed cell phone use and conducted public awareness surveys at driver licensing offices in the two cities. The observations found a one-third decrease in handheld use behind the wheel in Syracuse and a 57% drop in Hartford.
"The success of these pilot programs clearly show that combining strong laws with strong enforcement can bring about a sea change in public attitudes and behavior," said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland.
NHTSA plans to test this same three-part formula, tough laws, strong enforcement, and ongoing public awareness, at the state-wide level next.
"These findings show that strong laws, combined with highly-visible police enforcement, can significantly reduce dangerous texting and cell phone use behind the wheel," said U.S. Transportation secretary Ray LaHood. "Based on these results, it is crystal clear that those who try to minimize this dangerous behavior are making a serious error in judgment, especially when half a million people are injured and thousands more are killed in distracted driving accidents."