Study suggests laws banning use of hand-held cell phones while driving don’t decrease accidents

January 31, 2010

Do laws that ban hand-held cell phones and texting while driving actually decrease car accidents? Common sense would suggest the answer is yes, but a new study by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) is calling that assumption into question.

The HLDI study, the results of which are expected to be released at a conference in Washington, D.C. on Friday, suggest that laws banning texting and the use of hand-held phones while driving do not result in a significant decrease in motor vehicle accidents.

The results of this study come on the heels of an announcement by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood of new rules forbidding commercial truck and bus drivers from sending and receiving text messages while driving.

The Transportation Department criticized the HLDI findings in a statement released on Friday, saying “it is irresponsible to suggest that laws banning cell phone use while driving have zero effect on the number of crashes on our nation’s roadways.”

In the study, the HLDI analyzed data on monthly collision claims from four states that have banned the use of hand-held cell phones by drivers. The study looked at data from before and after the bans took effect in New York, Connecticut, California and Washington D.C.

According to the HLDI, a research institute funded by the car insurance industry, the data indicates that car accident rates didn’t change after the bans were put in place.

In a release, Adrian Lund, the president of the HLDI and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, stated “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.”

In response to these findings, experts are suggesting that distracted driving in general, not cell phone use in particular, is the real danger.

The laws have been effective in getting drivers to switch to hands-free devices, but, some are suggesting, talking while driving, whether on a hand-held or hands-free device, is where the actual risk lies. It’s the distraction, not necessarily the cell phone per se, that causes car accidents.

Focusing on distracted driving, says Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, is not the same thing as focusing on distracted driving. “Distraction is what has always caused car crashes, and cell phones don’t appear to be adding to that,” says Rader.

Texas is among the many states that now has a partial ban on using hand-held cell phones while driving.

For more on the HLDI study, see this piece in the Wall Street Journal. Also, this article on CNET News offers further insight into the HLDI study and the issue of distracted driving.

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