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Press Releases

Summer Construction Coming on TN Roads

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Transportation; April 23, 2012:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Department of Transportation is joining states across the nation to remind motorists not to barrel through work zones. The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) will spread that message statewide during National Work Zone Awareness Week (April 23-27) in an effort to improve safety in Tennessee’s interstate and highway construction and maintenance work zones.

“We are heading into the busiest construction time of the year, and there will be hundreds of active work zones across Tennessee,” said TDOT Commissioner John Schroer. “Reducing speeds, staying alert, and exercising caution is the best way to ensure workers and motorists stay safe on our roadways.”

The spring and summer months provide perfect weather for highway work, and motorists will encounter work zones across Tennessee in downtowns, along interstates and in rural areas. Highway work zones can change frequently, making it even more important to pay attention to the road. Last year in Tennessee, fifteen people died in work zone crashes, twelve were either drivers or vehicle passengers, and three were construction workers.

“I was deeply saddened by the loss of two TDOT employees’ last year,” added Commissioner Schroer. These tragedies are sobering reminders of the hazards our highway workers face each and every day. I urge all motorists to remember highway crews are working to improve our roads to make your future commute better.”

The Tennessee Department of Transportation to date has lost 108 employees in the line of duty, most recently, two employees in 2011. TDOT HELP Operator Robert Nowicki was killed while assisting a motorist on Interstate 55 in West Memphis on June 20, 2011 and Highway Maintenance Worker Michael Dalton was killed setting up a work zone on Interstate 40 in Shelby County on September 8, 2011.

Each of TDOT’s regions will draw attention to Work Zone Awareness Week in Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Knoxville by lighting several buildings across the state in orange. TDOT will also honor the workers who lost their lives by placing a remembrance plaque in their Regional Offices during Work Zone Awareness Week. Work zone safety messages will also be displayed on TDOT’s overhead Dynamic Message Signs on interstates in Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga and Knoxville. TDOT has put together a video about the importance of work zone safety; the video can be seen here on TDOT’s YouTube page: http://youtu.be/j8cC9l3RFpM

Updated travel and construction information can be found on the TDOT SmartWay website at www.tn.gov/tdot/tdotsmartway or you may call 5?1?1. You can also receive traffic alerts via TDOT’s multiple Twitter feeds, including statewide traffic tweets @TN511 or any of TDOT’s other Twitter pages. Smartphone users can use the TDOT SmartWay Mobile website at http://m.tdot.tn.gov/SmartWay/ to access TDOT’s SmartWay cameras, messages displayed on overhead Dynamic Message Signs, and information on construction related lane closures and incidents on interstates and state routes.

As always, drivers are reminded to use all motorist information tools wisely and Know Before You Go!by checking travel conditions before leaving for their destination. Drivers should never tweet, text or talk on a cell phone while behind the wheel.

Categories
Liberty and Justice News

Few Fined for Texting Behind the Wheel

Tennessee lawmakers outlawed texting while driving more than two years ago. At the time, predictions were that 3,650 people a year would end up getting pinched thumbing their noses at the law while they thumbed away at their hand-held communication devices.

This year, Tennessee Highway Patrol has issued only 174 citations.

Although state officials say they don’t know how many local police citations have been written up, lawmakers who drove the bill through the Legislature say that despite the lack of tickets issued, they still believe the new law has been a success, and not a solution in search of a problem.

“I think law enforcement is beginning to figure out how to enforce it now, and it is difficult, but I think you’re going to see more enforcement as we move on,” said Chairman Jim Tracy who carried the bill in the Senate and runs the chamber’s Transportation Committee.

In 2009, lawmakers approved the texting and driving ban under the assumption it would also collected some $41,600 in fines through the up to $50 per ticket fee.

But in 2010, the state only collected $2,010 in state and county-issued citations, drastically below the state’s original estimates. THP issued 171 citations that year.

Officials who hand off such projections to the Legislature admitted earlier this year they overestimated the number of citations that would be issued for texting and driving in Tennessee.

The new law has yet to cover the price of implementation, which cost taxpayers $10,500 in programming changes to departmental systems required to enforce and track violations of the ban.

“Despite the challenges, the Tennessee Highway Patrol is and continues to strictly enforce this law,” wrote Department of Safety Spokeswoman Dalya Qualls in an email. “It is our hope that the prohibition of texting while driving in Tennessee, along with enforcement and education, will help alter the behavior of drivers around the state.”

The law bans sending a written message on a cell phone or other electronic communications device while the vehicle is in motion, punishable with a Class C misdemeanor which is limited to an up to $50 fine, although the state projected the average fine would be $15. Although the vehicle is in motion, the violation is ranked as non-moving and is not marked on a driver’s record.

The number of vehicle crashes involving cell phone use is on the rise. In 2007, the state counted 577 phone-related crashes, which has climbed to 918 last year, however the department statistics are unclear as to how many of those crashes included texting verses talking.

Rep. Jon Lundberg, who sponsored the ban in the House, said he’s torn between whether the low numbers are a result of a lack of enforcement or greater public awareness that texting while driving is prohibited.

“In most of our nature, we want to do things that are legal,” the Bristol Republican told TNReport. “I think most folks know that texting while driving is illegal in Tennessee.”

Thirty-five states currently ban texting while driving. Another nine have banned talking on handheld phones behind the wheel.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration this month recommended Congress and state legislatures consider a ban on using cell phones, including hands-free devices, while driving.

But apparently there’s little immediate desire to jump on the next bandwagon and try to legislate cell phones out of Tennessee drivers’ hands.

“Talking on the phone and texting are different,” said Tracy, R-Shelbyville. “You’re doing a running conversation while you’re texting and you’re not concentrating on driving, where you can talk on the phone and keep your eyes up and look at the road. So I don’t see a movement to ban telephones yet.”

Categories
Press Releases

Study: Texting Bans Don’t Reduce Crashes; May Actually Increase Them

From the Highway Loss Data Institute, Sept. 29, 2010:

ARLINGTON, VA — It’s illegal to text while driving in most US states. Yet a new study by researchers at the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) finds no reductions in crashes after laws take effect that ban texting by all drivers. In fact, such bans are associated with a slight increase in the frequency of insurance claims filed under collision coverage for damage to vehicles in crashes. This finding is based on comparisons of claims in 4 states before and after texting ban, compared with patterns of claims in nearby states.

The new findings, released today at the annual meeting of the Governors Highway Safety Association, are consistent with those of a previous HLDI study, which found that banning hand-held phone use while driving doesn’t cut crashes. HLDI is an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

HLDI researchers calculated rates of collision claims for vehicles up to 9 years old during the months immediately before and after driver texting was banned in California (January 2009), Louisiana (July 2008), Minnesota (August 2008), and Washington (January 2008). Comparable data were collected in nearby states where texting laws weren’t substantially changed during the time span of the study. This controlled for possible changes in collision claim rates unrelated to the bans — changes in the number of miles driven due to the economy, seasonal changes in driving patterns, etc.

“Texting bans haven’t reduced crashes at all. In a perverse twist, crashes increased in 3 of the 4 states we studied after bans were enacted. It’s an indication that texting bans might even increase the risk of texting for drivers who continue to do so despite the laws,” says Adrian Lund, president of both HLDI and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

HLDI’s new findings about texting, together with the organization’s previous finding that hand-held phone bans didn’t reduce crashes, “call into question the way policymakers are trying to address the problem of distracted driving crashes,” Lund adds.

“They’re focusing on a single manifestation of distracted driving and banning it. This ignores the endless sources of distraction and relies on banning one source or another to solve the whole problem.”

(Read the rest here)

Categories
Liberty and Justice News

BTW, Effects of Laws Against DWSMSing Still Unknown

Text messaging behind the wheel of a moving vehicle is illegal in Tennessee and about 20 other states. But there’s continuing debate on just whether the laws here or elsewhere are showing any demonstrable policy successes.

That topic was the subject of a short discussion detour on this week during a AAA Auto Club presentation before the House Transportation Committee.

At this point, it is still “too early to measure statistical results (of the texting ban) in Tennessee” that was signed into law last spring, said Don Lindsey, public affairs director for AAA of East Tennessee.

But Lindsey said one of the only studies in the country to study texting behavior before-and-after passage of an anti-texting law — a “direct observation” survey of thousands of California motorists that was sponsored by AAA — indicated the practice had dropped off by more than two-thirds.

According to a AAA press release, visual surveys conducted prior to the texting ban showed that about 1.4 percent of Orange County drivers were texting while driving. “The two post-law surveys showed that level had dropped substantially — to about 0.4 percent — a decline of about 70 percent overall,” stated the release.

The release noted that “surveys of the general public and AAA’s membership” show support for texting laws running between 80 and 90 percent — but also that “20-25 percent of drivers admit to texting while driving at least once in the past.”

Lindsey told Tennessee legislators the California study gives clear indication that “laws can have an effect on behavior.”

Soon thereafter, Rep. Phillip Johnson, R-Pegram, one of 30 state lawmakers who voted against the anti-texting bill last year, stopped Lindsey’s presentation to signal his incredulity with the study’s methodology and results.

“I find it hard to attribute (the texting decline) to passing the law,” said Johnson, who chairs the Rural Roads Subcommittee. “And how do you know they were texting?”

“You could see them,” Lindsey responded.

Johnson then asked how the researchers could be sure the motorists “weren’t punching a phone number,” which is still legal.

“They could tell because they didn’t put it up to their ear. They were looking at it and reading it. They could tell for any number of reasons,” said Lindsey.

Johnson  indicated he remained unconvinced, and said that while the results might be “pretty dramatic,” “striking,” and even “shocking,” he wouldn’t read much into them.

“We have trouble with the texting law that we have right now, and I don’t think law enforcement has even applied it yet because they can’t prove it,” said Johnson.

Mike Browning, spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Safety, reported after the meeting that state troopers have issued just seven citations for infractions of the law.

“(The Department of) Safety sees texting and driving as a very dangerous distraction behavior,” he wrote in an email to TNReport.

Browning added that “(i)t is a challenge for law enforcement since dialing on a cell phone is permissible, however if officers clearly observe a motorist engaged in texting or reading a device, they are subject to citation.”

After the exchange between the AAA spokesman and Rep. Johnson during the committee hearing, another lawmaker referenced a study released last month that suggested there’s no indication laws banning the use of cell phones while driving have improved traffic safety.

That study, sponsored by the Highway Loss Data Institute, found “no reductions in crashes after hand-held phone bans take effect.”

HLDI researchers said they examined monthly collision claims before and after hand-held phone-use by drivers was banned in New York, Connecticut, the District of Columbia and California. They also looked at similar data from nearby jurisdictions without the bans for control purposes.

The researchers determined “the laws aren’t reducing crashes, even though we know that such laws have reduced hand-held phone use, and several studies have established that phoning while driving increases crash risk,” said Adrian Lund, president of both HLDI and its affiliate, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which is an automobile insurer-supported group.

“Whatever the reason, the key finding is that crashes aren’t going down where hand-held phone use has been banned,” Lund said. “This finding doesn’t auger well for any safety payoff from all the new laws that ban phone use and texting while driving.”

After that study was mentioned, it was AAA’s turn to scoff at the findings.

“It was very irresponsible of them to even comment on texting, because their study had nothing to do with texting,” said Kevin Bakewell, public affairs vice president for AAA Auto Club South. “Their study had to do with the use of hands-free, or hand-held cell phone bans in some states.

“There’s a huge difference between texting and using a cell phone.Texting obviously requires you to take your mind not only off the road, but your hands off the wheel, and you eyes off the road as well,” he added. “Their study did not even look at texting, but they did comment on it, unfortunately.”

Russ Rader, a spokesman for IIHS, acknowledged his group’s study didn’t look at texting bans, only cell phones.

“But we would not expect a different results if we had studied texting bans,” he said. “The reason for that is these laws are very difficult to enforce. Lawmakers who think these laws are going to have a significant effect on reducing crashes are likely to be disappointed — whether it is a hand-held cell phone ban or texting.”