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NHTSA’s distracted driving policy and rumble strips

To raise awareness about the dangers of driving while distracted, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has posted their distracted driving policy statement and frequently asked questions on their website. The statement starts with this, “The primary responsibility of the driver is to operate a motor vehicle safely. The task of driving requires full attention and focus. Drivers should resist engaging in any activity that takes their eyes and attention off the road for more than a couple of seconds. In some circumstances even a second or two can make all the difference in a driver being able to avoid a crash.” The Frequently asked questions then offer a good summary of distracted driving’s risks and research. On the whole it’s a good primer on distracted driving and worth reading, but I have one bone to pick. After a strong opening about how safe driving is a driver’s primary responsibility, the FAQs suggests that states take do something that diverts attention away from driver responsibility and can create a lot of problems for cyclists: installing rumble strips. Here’s the offending passage:

States can take some steps immediately to reduce the risks of distracted driving. One example is installing rumble strips along roads to get the attention of drivers before they leave the roadway and/or deviate from their lane.

Rumble strips occupy the best part of the shoulder to bike on and can force cyclists onto the debris-ridden outer edge of the shoulder or into high speed travel lanes. The stimulus law has created greater urgency for cyclists to speak out against the proliferation of rumble stripping because the America Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) has provided funds that states can use to install rumble strips. (Google “ARRA rumble strips” for examples.) Plans for the strips stretch beyond interstates and limited access highways to slower otherwise bike-friendly roads and threaten thousands of miles of good bicycling routes. Notwithstanding the insertion of rumble strips into the discussion, NHTSA has put together a strong statement on distracted driving. Again, it’s worth a read. And while you’re on the topic, you can check out our report, Distracted Driving: a Bicycling Advocate’s Resource.

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