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How effective are distracted driving laws?

On Behalf of | Apr 29, 2019 | Car Accidents

Everyone knows that distracted driving is a serious problem. The news is nothing new. Even as far back as 2014, the National Safety Council said that roughly 5% of all crashes involved texting. They said another 21% of crashes involved people talking on their phones. We’ve known about the problem for years, but people keep using their phones while they’re on the road.

Pennsylvania has enforced a statewide texting ban since 2012 but still allows drivers to hold their cellphones to make calls. So just how effective is this texting ban? And how might things look if Pennsylvania adopted a handheld ban?

Texting Bans Save Lives

In 2014, The Washington Post reported on a study of the nation’s texting bans. The authors explored 11 years of data from 48 states and found that texting bans led to an 11% reduction of teen fatalities. But that wasn’t the only notable finding. The study also found that:

  • The mere existence of a texting ban led to a 2.3% reduction in fatalities for all drivers.
  • Primary enforcement matters. Texting bans are not as helpful when the police cannot pull drivers over simply for texting.
  • The states that banned all handheld devices were most effective at reducing traffic deaths for drivers age 22 to 64.

These findings suggest that Pennsylvania’s texting ban is a good first step, but that there’s good reason for lawmakers to explore a more restrictive handheld ban. ‘

Why Are Handheld Bans More Effective?

The Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital led a study that looked at how teens responded to the different state-level texting and handheld laws. Unsurprisingly, it found that teens used their cellphones in staggering numbers, but the introduction of different laws led to some more surprising results.

  • 37% of all the teens surveyed admitted to texting and driving within the last 30 days.
  • Handheld bans led to a 55% reduction of cellphone conversations. Rural drivers were an exception to this rule.
  • The study’s authors noted that text-only bans were not nearly as effective. They didn’t lead to a noticeable reduction in the number of teens who were texting and driving.

One of the study’s authors said the results were evidence that more states should adopt handheld bans. The study didn’t offer concrete reasons for the greater impact of handheld laws over texting bans, but the authors felt it was likely due to the ease of enforcement. People believe it’s easier for an officer to recognize a phone held to the ear than to notice a driver typing on a phone in his or her lap.

The Biggest Part Of The Problem Remains

These studies argue that Pennsylvania’s texting ban is saving lives. They also suggest the law would be more effective if it just banned all handheld devices.

Even though laws can help, both studies suggest that laws aren’t enough on their own. Some people want to supplement the laws with widespread education and change programs. For now, the fact is that we still have a long way to go.


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