TV spot showing crash highlights crackdown on motorist texting

Distracted driving caused 3,328 fatal crashes and 421,000 injury crashes in the United States in 2012, NHTSA figures say.
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DETROIT -- A commercial showing a truck crashing into the side of a car carrying two young women and a man will begin airing this month on national TV while police crack down on texting motorists.

The commercial is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s new $8.5 million TV, radio and digital advertising campaign to combat distracted driving. The tag line: “U Drive, U Text, U Pay.” The new spot complements other DOT efforts at distraction.gov.

Distracted driving caused 3,328 fatal crashes and 421,000 injury crashes in the United States in 2012, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The government definition of distracted driving includes activities such as eating, talking or adjusting the radio, but a total of 415 people died in crashes that cited use of cellphones as distractions in 2012. Data for 2013 aren’t yet available.

"This campaign puts distracted driving on par with our efforts to fight drunk driving or to encourage seat belt use," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement Thursday. "Across the country, we're putting distracted drivers on notice: If you're caught texting while driving, the message you receive won't be from your cellphone, but from law enforcement -- U Drive. U Text. U Pay."

Foxx announced during a press conference the new ad campaign and the nation's first high-visibility crackdown on distracted driving.

The crackdown combines heightened police enforcement of citations to motorists who are caught texting with the increased airing of public service announcements April 10-15. The commercial, produced by The Tombras Group, will air in English and Spanish April 7-15.

Police in states that have distracted driving laws are slated to participate. Thirty-seven states ban cellphone use by novice drivers and 43 states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit texting while driving.

The campaign kicks off National Distracted Driving Awareness Month and is based on two federally funded state programs in California and Delaware.

About 37 of 40 local police departments in the Sacramento, Calif., area issued 10,800 tickets to motorists talking or texting on cellphones during three specified periods between November 2012 and June 2013, when enforcement-based messaging was aired.

Observed hand-held cellphone use dropped from 4.1 percent to 2.7 percent between the specified time periods in California. In Delaware, 6,200 tickets were issued by all but one police department over the same period. Cellphone use dropped from 4.5 percent to 3.0 percent in Delaware by the end of the study, according to NHTSA.

NHTSA developed and paid for media and advertising spots in the state programs with the tag line “Phone in One Hand, Ticket in the Other.”

Acting NHTSA Administrator David Friedman said in a statement: "National campaigns like ‘Click It or Ticket’ and local efforts like ‘Phone in One Hand, Ticket in the Other’ show that combining good laws with effective enforcement and strong public education campaigns can -- and do -- change unsafe driving behaviors."


You can reach Ursula Zerilli at uzerilli@crain.com.

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