During its recent annual meeting, the Governors Highway Safety Association strengthened its policy positions regarding distracted driving and drugged driving, including calling for a ban on handheld cell phones for all drivers.

Distracted Driving

GHSA's new policy broadens its support of distracted driving legislation to include a call for handheld bans for all drivers. Previously, the association supported text messaging bans for all drivers, as well as a total ban on electronic devices for novice and school bus drivers.

Recent enforcement demonstration projects sponsored by the Department of Transportation and the states in New York and Connecticut have shown that a handheld cell phone ban can be enforced effectively and can reduce driver use of a cell phone.

While texting and handheld bans are both critical, texting bans by themselves can be difficult for law enforcement to enforce. Often, in states without a handheld law, the driver will claim they were dialing when stopped for texting by a law enforcement officer. This has been the experience in California. According to the California Office of Traffic Safety, there were 460,487 statewide handheld cell phone convictions in 2011 while there were only 14,886 texting convictions.

GHSA Executive Director Barbara Harsha notes that the broader implication of GHSA's new policy is that it sends a clear message to drivers that cell phone use while driving is not acceptable.

Thirty-nine states and D.C. ban texting while driving for all drivers, while 10 states and D.C. ban handheld cell phone use.

Drugged Driving

For the second straight year, the association broadened its drugged driving policy. GHSA now supports drugged driving per se laws, also known as zero tolerance laws. A driver can be charged with impaired driving solely for having a drug is his/her system.

Seventeen states currently have enacted these laws.

Additionally, GHSA is encouraging states to adopt an enhanced penalty for driving under the influence of multiple drugs, such as a combination of alcohol and another drug, or the combination of multiple drugs (other than alcohol.)