Research: Could Texting Laws Be Increasing Crashes?

September 28, 2010
Texting while driving

Texting while driving

If you know that talking or texting while driving is illegal, are you just as likely to do it, but in a more concealed way that takes your eyes away from the road and jeopardizes safety?

That's one of the potential explanations for new data from the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), the research arm of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Researchers at the HLDI looked at collision claims for all vehicles up to nine years old during months just before and after texting laws were enforced. During the time span of the study, with corrections for the economy and seasonal changes in driving patterns, they compared the results in those states with those of surrounding ones. So for instance, they compared California with neighboring Arizona, Nevada, and Oregon, for months before and after California's January 1, 2009, ban.

And they concluded, surprisingly, that there was no reduction in claims or crashes.

"Texting bans haven't reduced crashes at all. In a perverse twist, crashes increased in 3 of the 4 states we studied after bans were enacted. It's an indication that texting band might even increase the risk of texting for drivers who continue to do so despite the laws," commented IIHS and HLDI president Adrian Lund.

Lund said that these findings "call into question the way policymakers are trying to address the problem of distracted driving crashes."

The organization suggested that with these laws, drivers might be moving their phones farther down, away from sight, actually increasing their risk of an accident.

The IIHS says that young motorists are still more likely than older ones to text while driving, with crash rates increasing for those under 25 years old after the bans in several states were in effect.

The other possibility, of course, is that drivers invested in hands-free options and increased their in-car calling, as well as the risk of cognitive distraction.

Lund cautions that "finding no reduction in crashes, or even a small increase, doesn't mean it's safe to text and drive, though. There's a crash risk associated with doing this. It's just that bans aren't reducing this crash risk."


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