News: Consolidator Report
As state legislators across the United States enact laws that ban phoning and/or texting while driving, a new Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) study finds no reductions in crashes after hand-held phone bans take effect.
Comparing insurance claims for crash damage in four U.S. jurisdictions before and after such bans, the researchers find steady claim rates compared with nearby jurisdictions without such bans.
"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.
The HLDI database doesn’t identify drivers using cell phones 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 said. "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 cell phones and the risk of phoning while driving. We’re currently gathering data to figure out this mismatch."
Lund noted some 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 U.S. 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."
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