The US Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) has awarded two grants - of $87,500 each - to help reduce distracted driving in the District of Columbia (DC) and Washington state.
Partnering with General Motors (GM), GHSA is awarding the money to the state highway safety office (SHSO) in DC and Washington to create and evaluate local distracted driving prevention programmes.
Last year, the organisations awarded $210,000 in grants to seven SHSOs.
Distracted drivers killed 3,522 people and injured another 362,415 in 2021, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) - but GHSA says these numbers are probably higher "due to chronic underreporting".
Nearly one-fifth (644) of these deaths were people outside the vehicle, such as pedestrians or cyclists.
“Distraction is a ‘dirty little secret’ that few drivers want to talk about," says GHSA CEO Jonathan Adkins. "Distracted drivers kill people every day, yet surveys show most drivers think others are the problem, not themselves. We need creative solutions and new ways of thinking to meaningfully shift public opinion on this deadly behaviour."
DC HSO will develop specific campaigns for each of its eight wards to raise awareness of the danger distracted driving poses for people outside the vehicle. An education programme for middle school students will be initiated in partnership with non-profit Impact Teen Drivers.
DC HSO will also look at expanding DC's automated traffic enforcement programme to include equipment that can detect distracted drivers.
Meanwhile, the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC) will collect data in Pierce County to determine the extent and nature of the problem before conducting high visibility enforcement, and developing and implementing community-specific distracted driving campaigns.
This will include the use of driver feedback signs that detect cell phone use, and engage local leaders and partners in outreach efforts that promote adoption of a "positive traffic safety culture where distracted driving is socially unacceptable". WTSC will evaluate the project’s effectiveness to determine whether to use federal funding to implement it statewide.
In another facet to its strategy, GHSA also is partnering with Youthcast Media Group (YMG), a non-profit that trains high school and college students from underserved communities, to write about and report on health and social issues, such as traffic safety.
YMG will work with student journalists at high schools in Connecticut, DC, Florida, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia to the extent of the problem and show the personal toll of distracted driving through profiles of victims and their families.
YMG will also develop a digital toolkit that includes social media posts that SHSOs and their partners can use to engage with 16- to 24-year-olds - the age group which tends to be more likely to use cell phones while driving.