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Bans On Texting Are Not Making Our Roads Any Safer

September 29, 2010

Texting bans for drivers are ineffective at best and could encourage furtive behavior behind the wheel, according to a study funded by United States auto insurers released on Tuesday.

The Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) said it found no reduction in vehicle accident claims after bans on texting while driving went into effect in four US states — California, Louisiana, Minnesota and Washington.

Texting bans appear in the law books in most of the 50 American states, as well as Washington DC, the first jurisdiction to enact a ban on texting behind the wheel.

The group said it tabulated the number of collision claims immediately before and after bans on texting while driving went into effect and found a slight increase in the frequency of collision insurance claims in which texting played a role after the laws were enacted.

“Texting bans haven’t reduced crashes at all. In a perverse twist, crashes increased in three of the four states we studied after bans were enacted,” said HLDI president Adrian Lund. “It’s an indication that texting bans might even increase the risk of texting for drivers who continue to do so despite the laws.”

The Obama administration’s Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood criticized the report as “completely misleading” and accused HLDI of trying to discredit government efforts to make driving safer.

“Lives are at stake, and all the reputable research we have says that tough laws, good enforcement and increased public awareness will help put a stop to the deadly epidemic of distracted driving on our roads,” LaHood said in a statement.

HLDI presented its findings at an annual meeting of the Governors Highway Safety Association. Lund said crashes increased after the bans because drivers engaged in much riskier behavior by secretly texting behind the wheel.

It seems drivers responded to the bans, perhaps by moving their phones down out of the sight of prying eyes while they texted, showing they acknowledge “what they are doing was illegal,” he said in a statement.

“This could exacerbate the risk of texting by taking drivers’ eyes further from the road and for a longer time.” The findings “call into question the way policymakers are trying to address the problem of distracted driving,” Lund added.

Lund noted that in other research, HLDI also found that banning handheld cellphones also failed to reduce car crashes.

But LaHood stressed that vehicle accidents related to distracted driving killed nearly 5,500 people in 2009, down from 5,870 in 2008.

LaHood, last week, called for warning labels to be put on mobile phones reminding users of the potential deadly distractions they may cause if used while driving.

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