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Laws banning cellphone use while driving fail to reduce crashes, new insurance data indicate

January 30, 2010

Laws banning cellphone use while driving fail to reduce crashes, new insurance data indicate

ARLINGTON, VA — As state legislators across the United States enact laws that ban phoning and/or texting while driving, a new Highway Loss Data Institute study finds no reductions in crashes after hand-held phone bans take effect. Comparing insurance claims for crash damage in 4 US jurisdictions before and after such bans, the researchers find steady claim rates compared with nearby jurisdictions without such bans. The Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) is an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

HLDI researchers calculated monthly collision claims per 100 insured vehicle years (a vehicle year is 1 car insured for 1 year, 2 insured for 6 months each, etc.) for vehicles up to 3 years old during the months immediately before and after hand-held phone use was banned while driving in New York (Nov. 2001), the District of Columbia (July 2004), Connecticut (Oct. 2005), and California (July 2008). Comparable data were collected for nearby jurisdictions without such bans. This method controlled for possible changes in collision claim rates unrelated to the bans — changes in the number of miles driven due to the economy, seasonal changes in driving patterns, etc.

Month-to-month fluctuations in rates of collision claims in jurisdictions with bans didn’t change from before to after the laws were enacted. Nor did the patterns change in comparison with trends in jurisdictions that didn’t have such laws.

“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,” says Adrian Lund, president of both the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and HLDI. For example, an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study that relies on driver phone records found a 4-fold increase in the risk of injury crashes. A study in Canada found a 4-fold increase in the risk of crashes involving property damage. Separate surveys of driver behavior before and after hand-held phone use bans show reductions in the use of such phones while driving.

The HLDI database doesn’t identify drivers using cellphones when their crashes occur. However, reductions in observed phone use following bans are so substantial and estimated effects of phone use on crash risk are so large that reductions in aggregate crashes would be expected. In New York the HLDI researchers did find a decrease in collision claim frequencies, relative to comparison states, but this decreasing trend began well before the state’s ban on hand-held phoning while driving and actually paused briefly when the ban took effect. Trends in the District of Columbia, Connecticut, and California didn’t change.

“So the new findings don’t match what we already know about the risk of phoning and texting while driving,” Lund points out. “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.”

HLDI researchers compared the District of Columbia’s collision claim frequency trend not only with statewide trends in Virginia and Maryland but also with the trend in the nearby city of Baltimore. Again, the finding is no difference in the pattern of collision claims. Nor were any differences apparent when the researchers applied a time-based regression model to claims data for each of the study and comparison jurisdictions.

Lund points to factors that might be eroding the effects of hand-held phone bans on crashes. One is that drivers in jurisdictions with such bans may be switching to hands-free phones because no US state currently bans all drivers from using such phones. 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. This was the finding in North Carolina, where teenage drivers didn’t curtail phone use in response to a ban, in part because they didn’t think the law was being enforced.

“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.”

4 Comments leave one →
  1. wildwesty permalink
    January 30, 2010 11:48 pm

    I hope you don’t think that using a cell while driving is ok?? I can always tell someone who is using a cell and holding it… they often drive very crazy or don’t notice the light turned green. Hands free is also distracting but at times unavoidable (asking for directions and being lead somewhere, etc.). And texting while driving is the stupidest thing ever!!

    In Germany you MUST use hands free… you aren’t even supposed to hold the cell to dial or anything (€60 fine, in some countries MUCH higher). Yes, hard to control, but if after a crash they notice that you phoned at the time…. bye-bye insurance.

  2. goldiron permalink*
    January 30, 2010 11:58 pm

    I am surprised that you would feel that I thought that distracted driving was okay. I think that the enforcement is lax and that there are more distractions within a personal vehicle that are notcurrently dealt with.

    The insurance companies in the USA have been playing games with government and the public for years.

  3. wildwesty permalink
    January 31, 2010 11:55 am

    sometimes I think you should write YOUR opinion on the articles you post…. standing alone, I would almost think you agreed with it. That’s why I asked *wink*

  4. goldiron permalink*
    January 31, 2010 12:50 pm

    The only thing New Laws are going to do is give more revenue to the municipalities passing them.

    If they really want to stop the American Public From Driving Stupid the laws must have serious consequences for those who are in crashes and or collisions.

    This is unpopular and of course does not increase revenue to those making the laws.

    With all the laws being passed has any one noticed that the passing agency makes the money and no provisions are made for the victim.

    That means the government is making money from the hardship of others.

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