During the recent annual meeting of the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), members decided to strengthen the group’s policy positions on the issues of distracted driving and drugged driving.

GHSA’s new policy broadens the organization’s support of distracted driving legislation to include a call for handheld bans for all drivers. Previously, the association supported text-messaging bans for all drivers, as well as a total ban on electronic devices for novice and school bus drivers.

Recent enforcement demonstration projects sponsored by the Department of Transportation and by the states of New York and Connecticut have shown that a handheld cell phone ban can be enforced effectively and can reduce driver use of a cell phone, GHSA said.

While texting and handheld bans are both critical, GHSA said, texting bans by themselves can be difficult for law enforcement to enforce. Often, in states without a handheld cell phone law, drivers will claim they were dialing when stopped by police for texting. This has been the experience in California.

According to the California Office of Traffic Safety, there were 460,487 statewide handheld cell phone convictions in 2011 while there were only 14,886 texting convictions.

GHSA Executive Director Barbara Harsha noted that the broader implication of GHSA’s new policy is that it sends a clear message to drivers that cell phone use while driving is not acceptable.

"Passage of these laws will provide states a practical platform for discussing why any phone use while driving is dangerous," Harsha said.

Thirty-nine states and Washington, D.C., ban texting while driving for all drivers, while ten states and D.C. ban handheld cell phone use.

Also, for the second straight year, GHSA broadened its drugged driving policy. GHSA now supports drugged driving per se laws, also known as zero tolerance laws. A driver can be charged with impaired driving solely for having a drug is his or her system. Seventeen states currently have enacted these laws.

Additionally, GHSA is encouraging states to adopt a greater penalty for driving under the influence of multiple drugs, such as a combination of alcohol and another drug, or the combination of multiple drugs (other than alcohol).

"Our awareness of the scope of the drugged driving problem continues to increase each year," said GHSA Chairman Kendell Poole. "According to the 2007 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Random Roadside Survey, 16.3 percent of nighttime drivers tested positive for drugs. In my state of Tennessee, drugged driving has emerged as a top cause of crashes. Drug per se laws will give prosecutors an important new tool to address drugged driving."

To view state drug-impaired driving laws, click here. To view distracted driving laws, click here.