Do Bans on Texting While Driving Make the Roads Safer?

Almost everyone recognizes that it’s not safe to text and drive. Forty-seven states have passed legislation making texting while driving illegal. Fifteen states have passed laws making the use of a handheld phone while driving illegal.

Have these new laws been effective? Has there been a decline in fatalities and motor related accidents linked to distracted driving? Distracted driving actually references a wide variety of distracted behaviors, such as changing the radio or passing something to a backseat passenger, but for the most part, distracted driving in recent years refers specifically to cell phone use while driving.

A recent study reviewed crash data from 16 U.S. states: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin. Every state passed distracted driving laws during the time period of the study. Arizona currently does not have a statewide ban on texting and driving, but some cities within Arizona have passed their own bans.

The Mercury News summarized the recent studies findings:

In states with a texting ban, the study found an average 4 percent annual reduction in emergency room visits for motor vehicle crash injuries compared to before the ban.

“While new laws that are aimed at curbing distracted driving may seem overbearing, they have been shown to reduce detrimental roadway outcomes that lead to the prevention of death, serious injuries, and minor injuries following a car crash,” said lead study author Alva Ferdinand of Texas A&M University School of Public Health in College Station.
“Given the fact that a driver’s decision to text while driving can not only impact him or her, but passengers in his/her car, drivers and passengers in other cars, and pedestrians, the evidence suggests that adherence to these laws can be beneficial,” Ferdinand said by email.
The study wasn’t designed to prove whether or how texting bans might have altered behaviors that lead to crashes. Researchers also lacked data on how many crash-related emergency room visits involved drivers who had been texting.
Still, “it is crystal clear from research in cars outfitted with internal cameras that taking one’s eyes off the road to engage with a phone drastically increases the risk of a crash,” said Dr. M. Kit Delgado of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
“Therefore, aggressively promoting and enforcing a ban on all handheld phone use makes sense,” Delgado, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.

Social Work Today cited additional studies that support the effectiveness of cell phone bans:

The University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health examined the impact texting-while-driving laws have had on roadway crash-related fatalities, and the findings are published in the American Journal of Public Health.
While completing her doctoral work in the Department of Health Care Organization and Policy, Alva O. Ferdinand, DrPH, JD, conducted a longitudinal panel study to examine within-state changes in roadway fatalities after the enactment of state texting-while-driving bans using roadway fatality data captured in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System between 2000 and 2010.

“Our results indicated that primary texting bans were significantly associated with a 3% reduction in traffic fatalities among all age groups, which equates to an average of 19 deaths prevented per year in states with such bans,” Ferdinand says. “Primarily enforced texting laws that banned only young drivers from texting were the most effective at reducing deaths among the 15- to 21-year-old cohort, with an associated 11% reduction in traffic fatalities among this age group in states with such bans.”

States with secondarily enforced restrictions did not see any significant reductions in traffic fatalities.

Laws that ban texting while driving are not as effective as universal bans on hand-held cellphone use, according to a new study led by the Center for Injury Research and Policy (CIRP) at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

“Three60 reported in April, 2018”

“Our study shows that universal bans of hand-held cellphone calls while driving can be effective in reducing teens’ hand-held conversations while driving, but texting bans are not effective in reducing texting while driving,” said Motao Zhu, the study’s lead author and Principal Investigator in the CIRP at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “Nearly all states ban texting while driving, however, these bans are not effective. More states should implement hand-held cellphone bans, which have been proven to discourage hand-held cellphone conversations while driving.”

So, what do all these studies mean? Common sense dictates that handling a cellphone while driving, whether using it to call someone, read a text, search on the Internet, or look up directions isn’t a good idea. Hands-free phones and phones that connect directly to automobiles are much better ideas.
Should states go a step further and require hands-free phones? Is a ban on texting while driving not enough? Maybe. A perfect opportunity exists to study the sixteen states with a ban on hand-held phones vs the other states without such legislation to get an idea of whether or not the legislation is effective.
In the meantime, whether your state makes it legal or not, common sense says it’s safer to not use a handheld phone while driving, so don’t do it. Drive safely.

Lisa Lippiner covers driving news for, making the roads safer one test taker at a time.

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