Monday, 15 February 2010 09:26

Hand-held cell phone bans not reducing crashes

Distracted driving is an attention problem not a manual operation problem, so it’s no surprise to many that laws banning the use of hand-held phones while driving have failed to reduce crashes, according to research conducted by the Highway Loss Data Institute.

HLDI, an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), said its findings were based on a comparison of crash damage insurance claim rates in four U.S. jurisdictions before and after the phone use bans. The research showed claim rates remained steady compared with nearby jurisdictions that have not passed 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,” said Adrian Lund, president of the IIHS and HLDI.

In New York, HLDI noted, there was a decrease in collision claim frequencies relative to comparison states, but that trend began “well before the state’s ban took effect.” HLDI added that trends in the District of Columbia, Connecticut and California did not change.

Mr. Lund said, “So the new findings don’t match what we already know about the risk of phoning and texting while driving. 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.”

Mr. Lund said a possible reason for the finding may be that drivers are switching to hands-free phones, which presents about the same risk as hand-held phones.

“Whatever the reason,” he said, “the key finding is that crashes aren’t going down where hand-held phone use has been banned. 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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