Harrisburg, PA - Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman today joined members of the Dauphin County Technical School National Honor Society and National Technical Honor Society in turning on the app or setting on their cell phones to reject texts and emails while driving, in recognition of April as Distracted Driving Month. Statistics show highway deaths, including pedestrian fatalities, and insurance rates have risen since the introduction of smart phones a decade ago.
“Distracted driving is a safety hazard. While this takes many forms, from interacting with passengers, to changing radio stations or downloaded music, to eating, statistics leave little doubt reading and sending texts and emails on smart phones plays a major role in increased highway crashes and deaths,” Altman said. “This also means higher auto insurance rates.”
Altman noted under Pennsylvania law, it is illegal for a driver to send, read, or write a text-based communication while his or her vehicle is in motion. This is a primary offense, meaning a police officer can pull a driver over for this offense alone. The penalty is a $50 fine, plus court costs and other fees. The law covers texting or emailing.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports U.S. highway deaths dropped in 2008 to 33,808, the lowest death toll since 1950. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) reports the following year, 2009, average auto insurance premiums dropped to $787, down 5.4 percent from 2005.
“Smart phones were introduced in 2007, and statistics through 2015 show a dramatic increase in highway deaths, with the number that year rising to 38,300, up more than 13 percent from the 2008 low,” Altman told students at the school in Dauphin County. “Meanwhile, the Governors Highway Safety Association reports, after 19 years of declines, pedestrian fatalities began rising in 2009, jumping from 4,414 in 2008 to 5,977 in 2017. In Pennsylvania, 90 pedestrians were killed during the first six months of 2018, a 41 percent increase from the 64 pedestrian deaths during the first six months of 2017.”
At the same time, Altman notes, annual auto insurance premiums had risen to an average of $935 by 2016, up just under 19 percent since 2009.
Altman joined the Dauphin County Technical School NHS and NTHS members in activating the app or setting on their phones to reject texts or emails while the owner is driving. The information is stored and immediately available when the owner stops driving. The sender of the text or email receives a message that the person they are corresponding with is driving and will respond when their destination is reached.
“Prom and graduation season is right around the corner, and tragically we hear of students killed and injured in car crashes this time of year, so I want to encourage everyone to take this prudent precaution to cut down on distracted driving,” Altman said. She commended the students at the Dauphin County Technical School for publicly agreeing to do this.
DCTS Special Education and Social Studies teacher Bryttani Biggica also spoke about the trauma of having a close friend disabled in a crash caused by texting while driving.
“This type of crash upends the lives of good people, and it’s entirely preventable,” Biggica said. “Our phones have the technology to block texts and emails while we’re driving, and we need to use this technology to prevent unnecessary death and serious injury.”
Altman urged consumers to contact their cell phone provider if they are uncertain how to activate the app or setting on their smart phone to decline texts and emails while driving. She noted most have both automatic and manual settings, and can be deactivated if the person is riding in a vehicle and not the driver, or riding on another mode of transportation such as a train, which may activate the block on the automatic setting.
“This is a common-sense action we should all take to make our roads safer. We have seen and heard the campaigns that the text or email can wait, but if our phone doesn’t buzz while we’re driving, we won’t be tempted to take our eyes off the road in the first place,” Altman said. “The person sending us a message will know we got it and we’ll respond when it’s safe to do so.”
MEDIA CONTACT: Ron Ruman 717-787-3289
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