January 30, 2010

Cell Phone Laws Have No Impact On Accidents

As state legislators across the United States enact laws banning cellphone use while driving, a new Highway Loss Data Institute study finds no reductions in crashes after hand-held phone bans take effect.

Released on Friday, the study reviewed insurance claims from crashes before and after these bans took effect in California, New York, Connecticut and Washington, D.C.

The study concluded that accident rates did not drop after the laws were set in motion.

Adrian Lund wrote, "The laws aren't reducing crashes, even though we know that such laws have reduced hand-held phone use, and several studies have established that phoning while driving increases crash risk."

"If crash risk increases with phone use and fewer drivers use phones where it's illegal to do so, we would expect to see a decrease in crashes. But we aren't seeing it. Nor do we see collision claim increases before the phone bans took effect. This is surprising, too, given what we know about the growing use of cellphones and the risk of phoning while driving. We're currently gathering data to figure out this mismatch," says Lund, president of both the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and HLDI.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, six states and the District of Columbia have banned talking on a hand-held device for all drivers, while 19 states and the District of Columbia have banned texting while driving.

One explanation could be an increase in the use of handsfree devices in places with bans on handset use while driving.

In this case crashes wouldn't go down because the risk is about the same, regardless of whether the phones are hand-held or hands-free. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia do prohibit beginning drivers from using any type of phone, including hands-free, but such laws are difficult to enforce.

"Whatever the reason, the key finding is that crashes aren't going down where hand-held phone use has been banned," Lund points out. "This finding doesn't auger well for any safety payoff from all the new laws that ban phone use and texting while driving."

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood also has been campaigning against texting and cell phone use while driving. In a blog post Friday, LaHood dismissed the new study's conclusions as irresponsible and said the study will lead people "to wrongly conclude that talking on cell phones while driving is not dangerous."

He wrote, "At this early stage in our work against distracted driving, no one should be discouraging strong nationwide efforts to make our roadways safer. Unfortunately, a study released by the Highway Loss Data Institute casts doubt on the reality of this epidemic."


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