Study Finds that Texting While Driving Ban Does Not Reduce Incidence of Accidents
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A new study released by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) suggests that laws which are aimed at curbing texting while driving not only don’t serve to reduce texting-related accidents, but, counter-intuitively, if anything such laws seem to lead to an increase in, if not accidents, at least the filing of accident-related insurance claims.

In looking at four states which had within the past two years passed laws aimed at banning texting while driving (California, Minnesota, Washington, and Louisiana), the HLDI noted that not only did three of the four states experience an increase in accident claims, but that adjacent states which did not have texting laws had no such increase. This suggests that the increase in insurance claims in the states which had enacted texting laws is likely related to the fact that they had enacted such laws.


The Institute hypothesizes that the increase in claims may be due to drivers hiding their cell phones out of sight, while still using them to text, causing them to take their eyes off the road for longer periods of time than their counterparts in non-texting-banning states who do not need to hide their phones and to text surreptitiously to avoid being caught.

Researchers in Scotland, at the University of Glasgow, found that there was a much higher likelihood of an accident when a driver hid their texting device and used it while it was on their lap, or on the seat next to them. Conversely, they found that the likelihood of a crash was reduced dramatically when the drivers went from the “head-down” display position to a “heads-up” display, as one would imagine.

Says HLDI president Adrian Lund, “If drivers were disregarding the bans, then the crash patterns should have remained steady. So clearly drivers did respond to the bans somehow, and what they might have been doing was moving their phones down and out of sight when they texted, in recognition that what they were doing was illegal. This could exacerbate the risk of texting by taking drivers’ eyes further from the road and for a longer time.”

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Says the HLDI study:

The results of this study seem clear. In none of the four states where texting bans could be studied was there a reduction in crashes. It’s important to remember that the public safety issue in distracted driving is the crashes resulting from cell- phone conversations and texting, not the use of these devices, per se. If the goal of texting and cellphone bans is the reduction of crash risk, then the bans have so far been ineffective. Bans on handheld cellphone use by drivers have had no effect on crashes (HLDI, 2009), as measured by collision claim frequencies, and texting bans may actually have increased crashes.

These results indicate that distracted driving crashes are a complicated issue unlikely to be affected greatly by laws banning only one or another potential distraction… Anecdotal evidence from insurance claims files and police crash reports over the years have provided an astounding array of ways in which drivers manage to be distracted from the driving task at just the wrong time — from adjusting the radio, to eating and drinking, to tending a child in the rear seat, to reading, shaving, and applying makeup, to swatting bees.

The long history and ubiquity of distracted driving crashes, coupled with the current findings, suggests that public policy that focuses on only one source of distraction (for example, cellphone conversations or texting) may fail simply because it doesn’t recognize that drivers always are subject to distraction.

 

This does not, of course, mean that you should text while driving. Rather, it means that in addition to not texting while driving, you should also be aware of other distractions, and take care to avoid them.

 

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