Texting bans could boost, not reduce, accident rates, study says

Study of four states with texting laws finds higher crash rates in three of them

Laws have often created unintended consequences, but rarely have they created inverse consequences, getting the opposite effect than lawmakers intended. Prohibition is probably one example. Laws that target distracted driving could be another.

Some state laws passed against texting while driving apparently have resulted in more accidents caused by people texting while driving, according to a new study by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI).

HLDI studied accident rates in four states that have anti-texting laws and found that accident rates hadn’t fallen. In fact, the trend is going the other way.

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

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Thirty states and the District of Columbia have laws against texting while driving. HLDI studies accident rates in California, Louisiana, Minnesota and Washington.

HLDI said the results of the texting study mirror those of an earlier study showing that laws requiring hand-free cell phone calls while driving also hadn’t reduced accident rates.

The report concluded that a primary reason for the results is that many people are just ignoring the law. Among the most text-happy group of drivers — 18 to 24 year olds — 45 percent have said they would text anyway. In California, accident rates among young drivers increased by 12 percent after a texting ban took effect.

The laws themselves could be contributing to higher accident rates, the report speculated, because texting drivers are trying to keep their activity out of sight, holding phones lower. “This could exacerbate the risk of texting by taking drivers' eyes further from the road and for a longer time," Lund said.

The problem, could also be that the laws could be too narrowly focused to tacked the real problem, Lund said. “They're focusing on a single manifestation of distracted driving and banning it,” he said. “This ignores the endless sources of distraction and relies on banning one source or another to solve the whole problem.”


About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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Reader Comments

Sat, Oct 2, 2010 Lee Hampton

I agree with Dave in NH. Only one variable was reported. Has the incidence of texting while driving increased through the same time period as the enacting of the laws? This could account for the increase in crashes without blaming the laws. And why are only four states studied (of 30 with laws and 20 without)? Sounds like limited data to me. (I won't accuse HLDI of cherry-picking... yet.)

Thu, Sep 30, 2010 Dave NH

Something important is missing from the study: what was the trend in the control group, those states without bans? Have the rates gone up 100% in those states? Sounds like a poorly constructed study to me

Thu, Sep 30, 2010 Bawlamer

"Laws have often created unintended consequences, but rarely have they created inverse consequences, getting the opposite effect than lawmakers intended. Prohibition is probably one example. Laws that target distracted driving could be another." As the article says, if one actually reads it in its entirety, the cause is not the law itself, but that because of the law texters may be trying to hide their phone in their lap to avoid detection, which takes their eyes off the road for a longer time. Enforcement rates were not addressed in the article, only accident rates. What's not known is if texting is a primary offense that can be a reason for a traffic stop or only a secondary offensefor which an officer cannot pull one over, much like Arizona SB10. Be careful what you try to ban as it may not work. Prohibition, by the way, is not the only the only example of the law of unintended consequences. Where else have we heard this before? This sounds like the laws banning handguns: States with tighter restrictions on handguns have higher crime rates. In Florida the criminals long ago became smart enough to attack out-of-state drivers or rental car drivers because FL citizens may be armed and might shoot back.

Thu, Sep 30, 2010 Jim Minnesota

From what I read, ignoring the law has a different meaning than what was meant. I know, for instance that there is a law that says I cannot text in my state (Minnesota) while driving. Ignoring the law means that I do it anyway. So the person who did not put their name did not understand the use of ignore. I like Mr Lunds explanation because sometimes trying to hide something is worse. Calling this article trash or BS is not being responsible. This article is not calling for removing of text bans. This article is calling for better laws on distracted driving. You would not believe the number of drivers that I have seen in Minnesota with their cell phones driving down the middle of two lanes or almost crashing into barriers. Any distracted driving should be addressed. The hard part is how to build a law that will not be trashed.

Thu, Sep 30, 2010 WOR

How about enacting laws that in effect say "if you get into an accident while distracted, you will be charged with vehicular assault or homicide."

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