Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Sharon Montgomery Reports: DWT Presentation to Gahanna City Council, September 7, 2010.

Gahanna city council and the city administration spent months discussing how to improve traffic safety in Gahanna, so I'm confident you all read the article in the Sunday Dispatch about the Centers for Disease Control report.

The Centers for Disease Control has again calculated the economic costs of traffic crashes and again found them to be both staggering and reduceable. This agency hopes the alarming costs will motivate state and local governments to take more legislative action, where motivation hasn't come from concern over the devastating impact on citizens' lives.

The CDC claims it wants the costs reduced by reducing the number of traffic crashes but some of its recommendations will not do that. Wearing seat belts in cars or helmets on motorcycles will certainly reduce injuries and deaths when crashes occur. Fewer deaths and less severe injuries are certainly goals we as a society must strive for. But, if we want to reduce the costs even further, we must do more to prevent those crashes from occurring in the first place.

Other CDC recommendations include red light cameras, drunk driving checkpoints, and graduated driver licensing, all of which actually will prevent crashes.

The reason I am here tonight to talk publicly about this new report is the fact that the CDC did not recommend laws to restrict drivers from using mobile communication devices while driving.

The CDC based this omission on a recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety which supposedly shows that these phoning or texting bans are not reducing the number of crashes. The simple and obvious explanation for this conclusion is that no state or city has prohibited all use of these devices. A growing number of states and cities are prohibiting some of the ways the devices can be used by drivers. Some, like Gahanna, have comprehensive laws about giving full attention to driving. But, let me repeat: no one has yet said drivers cannot use these devices at all because of the high risk of serious consequences.

What has not been studied and is undoubtedly happening is that too many drivers where these partial bans are in effect are simply using the devices in ways not yet prohibited. If they can't text, they'll talk. If they can't talk on a hand-held device, they'll talk on a hands-free device. There is overwhelming scientific and anecdotal evidence that it is the conversation, not the manipulation of the device, that engages the brain in a way and to an extent that full attention to driving is not occurring.

A legitimate question at this point is why are other safety organizations pushing for these laws if they're not reducing crashes. The answer is that the partial laws are a necessary first step in raising awareness and changing the culture of acceptance, so eventually we can enact the laws we need.

Please understand that I am not here tonight to reopen our difference of opinion on how Gahanna should address the distracted driving problem. The city has discussed and decided on a course of action and is making the residents aware of that decision. Over time, citation and crash statistics and court records will show whether the City's decision is having the desired effect.

I am here tonight to be sure that everyone with the authority and responsibility for traffic safety has all the information they need about this new CDC report. Thank you for your time.

Sharon Montgomery.


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