Text Bans Don't Reduce Distracted Driving, Study Says

By Colin Bird  on September 29, 2010

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We reported Monday that the Governors Highway Safety Association decided not to support a total ban on in-car phone usage, and a new study may point to the reason why.

Thirty states and the District of Columbia have banned texting while driving and, according to the Highway Loss Data Institute, there is no evidence that those laws have affected the frequency crashes caused by distracted driving. To the contrary, the laws may have actually increased the amount of collisions.

The HLDI study looked at the crash rates before and after text-ban laws took effect in four states — California, Minnesota, Washington and Louisiana – and compared it to surrounding states that have no such laws. After adjusting for possible changes in collision claim rates unrelated to the bans, the study found that the bans did nothing to reduce crashes. And in three of the four states, crash rates increased after the ban.

The increase could be due to the fact that drivers who are knowingly texting in states where it’s illegal are trying to conceal their phones by moving them down and out of the sight while driving. A study from the University of Glasgow shows that focusing on something on your lap, rather than having the phone’s display at a normal viewing level, might be more hazardous for a texting driver.

Besides trying to avoid detection, few people in the HLDI study stopped texting altogether once the ban took effect. Forty-five percent of 18- to 24-year-olds in states where texting and driving is banned reported to still partake in the practice after the ban, compared with 48% of people in states that have no ban.

In addition to the poor correlation between text bans and safety, there is no evidence that banning hand-held phones reduces crashes, either, according to the HLDI.

There is still only mixed evidence as to whether texting or talking on a phone is any more distracting than having a conversation with passengers, adjusting the radio or having a blood-alcohol level of 0.08.

Safety