Impact of cell phone ban doubted

A national crackdown on distracted driving takes an unexpected turn today. A new study shows that the number of traffic crashes did not drop in three states and the District of Columbia after they banned drivers from using handheld cellphones.The Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), examined insurance claims for crash damage in New York, Connecticut, California and Washington, D.C., before and after handheld bans took effect and found no reduction in crashes.


“Absolutely, we were surprised by these results,” says Adrian Lund, president of IIHS and HLDI. An Insurance Institute study in 2000 found that drivers talking on cellphones were four times as likely to crash as drivers not using phones. “The key finding is that crashes aren’t going down where handheld phone use has been banned,” Lund says. “This finding doesn’t augur well for any safety payoff from all the new laws that ban phone use and texting while driving.”

Lund, who says more research is needed, says crash rates might have stayed the same because people switched to hands-free devices after handheld phones were banned. “We know that people talking hands-free are really not much safer than people talking handheld,” he says.

California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia ban the use of handheld cellphones while driving.

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and auto club AAA said the study’s implications were unclear. Both also said the findings should not be interpreted to suggest that banning texting while driving would be ineffective.

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“The study raises as many questions as it answers,” says GHSA executive director Barbara Harsha. “We know that handheld cellphone use goes down when it is banned, but we don’t know if this translates into fewer crashes.”

She says the association, which represents highway safety offices in the 50 states, “urges states to pass texting bans but hold off on addressing other cell use until some clarity is achieved.”

Justin McNaull, director of state relations for AAA, says the group’s aggressive lobbying for state bans on texting will continue. “Texting’s different from talking on the phone,” he says. “Texting takes people’s eyes off the road for seconds at a time when they’re oblivious to what’s going on around them.”

The new study comes as more states are moving to ban texting while driving. Legislatures in 23 states are considering such restrictions; 10 of those states already restrict texting by novice drivers. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia ban it for all drivers.

The federal government this week banned texting on handheld devices for bus drivers and commercial truckers, and three senators are pushing legislation that would penalize states financially if they don’t ban it.

Via USA Today