Cities taking the lead on distracted driving

Distracted driving has become a real concern in recent years with the proliferation of mobile devices taking drivers" attention from the road. Studies by the New England Journal of Medicine and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety concluded that cell phone users are four times more likely to be involved in a crash than drivers who aren't using them. Incredibly, cell phone users reacted slower to a vehicle braking in front of them than someone with a blood alcohol content of .08, the legal limit in South Carolina.

Greenville distract driving artwork 


While the General Assembly has considered several versions of texting and distracted driving bans, 15 cities have passed their own local ordinances. The ordinances vary in substance and fines, but all have one intended result in common-to stop the drastic increase in accidents caused by distracted driving.
The City of Greenville was the first municipality in the state to pass a distracted driving ordinance that makes it illegal for drivers to use any handheld electronic device, including cellphones and GPS, while behind the wheel unless they are legally parked. The ordinance bans use not only while the vehicle is in motion, but also while the vehicle is temporarily stopped due to traffic, a traffic control device or other delays, such as waiting in a carpool line.

Greenville sign 

Before passing the ban in February, the Greenville City Council held a public hearing and took comments at two council meetings to gain input on the proposal. The staff also gathered input from neighborhood association presidents, residents, members of the city's Youth Commission, the SC Trucking Association and the Greenville Chamber of Commerce.

According to David Sudduth, Greenville's mayor pro tem, an internal committee initially explored a texting ban. Committee members quickly realized the issue was much larger than just texting while driving; the problem was really about distracted driving. Ultimately, he says, there were three main objectives for developing an ordinance: ensure the ordinance is legal; ensure the ordinance is enforceable; and ensure the ordinance is meaningful.

"Our decision to address distracted driving came about after watching the General Assembly fail to act year after year," said Sudduth. "After last year's session ended, we decided to take action ourselves. While we would prefer statewide action, we have a responsibility to our citizens to ensure public safety."

Before the April 1 implementation date of its distracted driving ban, Greenville did an all-out public awareness campaign to ensure people were aware of the new ordinance. Not only did the city reach out to residents and people who drive into Greenville daily to work with billboards and signs in parking garages, but city officials also worked with local hotels, colleges and business organizations to make sure people who were just passing through knew about the ban. The city also posted signs about the new ordinance at all 34 of its gateway entrance points.

The city also partnered with Michelin North America, Inc. and SIMON Property Group to bring the national "Save A Life Tour" to a local mall in February. The tour included a state-of-the-art distracted driving simulator and served as a reminder to Greenville residents about the April 1 effective date of the new ordinance. More than 400 people attended the event.

During Distracted Driving Awareness Month in April, the city kicked off a social media campaign and asked members of the public to change their Facebook profile picture for one week (beginning April 1) to the city's distracted driving logo. The city also produced short PSAs with recognizable people like radio personalities, George Hincapie (internationally-known former road bicycle racer), Mac Arnold (musician), Youth Commission members and city councilmembers that were posted on the city's Facebook page throughout the month.

In 2010, the City of Clemson was the first municipality in the state to pass any type of texting ban. Knowing the primary target of an education campaign about the ban had to be students, the city used downtown pole banners; rubber thumb rings and wrist bracelets stating "no texting while driving" or "don't text and drive." The city continues to distribute these items at the University's welcome back to school event and at other times when city staff is speaking to various groups. The city has also created brochures that explain the ordinance and how it is enforced. 

Clemson texting ban 

Clemson Police Chief Jimmy Dixon notes that education is just as, if not more, important as enforcement. "A no texting ban, in and of itself, is difficult to enforce, but can be done," says Dixon. "The issue is not how many citations an agency can write; but through the educational and enforcement components, can a behavior be changed.  It is about saving a life not compiling statistics."

The City of Camden passed its texting ban in 2010. Since the ordinance went into effect, instances of distracted driving-related accidents in the city have decreased by 56 percent, according to the Camden Police Department. Camden officials have also produced a video giving an overview of the ordinance, why it was passed and why councilmembers think it is a good idea.

Distracted driving also goes beyond enforcement of local ordinances. City employees must understand and comply with their city's personnel policies regarding texting while driving when on city business. The Municipal Association's self-insured workers" compensation and property and liability insurance pools recently offered members a 4-hour defensive driving course that focused in large part on how cell phone use contributes to distracted and impaired driving.

Participants learned that while many activities cause one or two types of distraction, cell phone use causes all three. The three types of distractions are manual distractions, which take drivers" hands off the wheel; visual distractions, which take their eyes off the road; and cognitive distractions, which take their minds off the road.