Campaign targets distracted drivers

5/14/2013, 1:35 p.m. | Updated on 5/18/2013, midnight

DRIVE SMART Virginia and the New Kent County Sheriff’s Office are in the midst of phase two of Phone Down. Just Drive an education and enforcement project geared toward reducing the number of distracted truck and bus drivers on Interstate 64 in New Kent County, VA. Preliminary results show fewer than 5% of truck drivers are using a hand held phone while driving.

Phone Down. Just Drive is funded by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) as part of a national pilot program that will study the effectiveness of an enforcement and education campaign targeted toward distracted driving with truck and bus drivers. A hand held cell phone ban for commercial drivers in the U.S. took effect Jan. 3, 2012.

In an effort to educate truck and bus drivers about the enforcement, DRIVE SMART Virginia has purchased billboard space along Interstate 64, Interstate 95 and Interstate 295. VDOT has also authorized the use of variable messaging signs on east and westbound I-64 prior to the enforcement area. CB radios within the New Kent County area of Interstate 64 also help alert commercial drivers to the campaign and the special enforcement. Outreach workers are also stationed at rest areas in the project area to educate truck and bus drivers about the campaign.

“The goal of this project is to change behavior, just like Click It or Ticket,” said Janet Brooking, Executive Director of DRIVE SMART Virginia. “Studies show that the most impactful way to affect change is through strong enforcement and education.”

The New Kent Sheriff’s Office is using dedicated motor carrier enforcement officers to spot offenders and issue violations. Deputies are spotting violators by patrolling a section of Interstate 64 in unmarked SUV’s. Deputies pull alongside trucks and observe drivers first hand.

“If they spot a truck or bus driver with a phone in their hand, they are going to make that stop,” said New Kent Sheriff F.W. Howard Jr. “So far, we have issued more than 100 handheld citations over three weeks of targeted enforcement.”

“Our goal throughout this campaign is for 100% compliance,” Brooking said. “Based upon our outreach, we know that truck drivers overwhelmingly support this effort.”

DRIVE SMART Virginia is evaluating the project in partnership with a leading research team who is evaluating observational data collected throughout the project timeframe. Results of the project will be announced in late summer 2013.

The Phone Down. Just Drive campaign ends May 17.