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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