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Do distracted driving awareness campaigns work?

You've probably read news stories about distracted driving laws. You've likely seen commercials designed to raise awareness of the risks.

What you're wondering is if these measures even work? Don't people already know that texting and driving is dangerous, for example? Is seeing a commercial really going to change their habits? It often feels like they know the risks already; the problem is just that they decide the risks are worth it and text anyway.

Interestingly, some studies have shown that campaigns, while unable to entirely eliminate distracted driving, can help.

For instance, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) ran and monitored a few Distracted Driving Demonstration Projects for three years. The projects attacked the issue from multiple directions, both by encouraging police to be more strict in enforcing the laws and by using news stories and ads to increase awareness.

In the end, multiple states saw their "observed driver cell phone use" decline notably. In New York, it started at 3.7 percent and fell to 2.5 percent. In California, it began at 4.1 percent and dropped to 2.7 percent. In Delaware, the decline was from 4.5 percent to 3.0 percent, while Connecticut saw a dramatic drop from 6.8 percent all the way to 2.9 percent.

Of course, this is just based on observed use, so there could be other explanations. For instance, maybe drivers just learned that they needed to work harder to hide their cellphone use to avoid tickets, but they didn't stop using their phones entirely.

Plus, no states saw a drop all the way to 0 percent. The risk still exists. Those who are injured in accidents with distracted drivers must know all of their legal rights.

Source: CDC, "Distracted Driving," accessed Oct. 06, 2017

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