Handheld Cell Phone Bans Not Reducing Crashes

The Highway Loss Data Institute reports that laws banning using handheld mobile phones while driving or sending text messages while driving didn't lead to reduced numbers of collision claims.

The numbers aren't adding up for the Highway Loss Data Institute. Comparing insurance claims for crash damage in four U.S. jurisdictions before and after bans on driving and using handheld phones, researchers found no reduction in crashes after the bans.
"HLDI researchers calculated monthly collision claims ... for vehicles up to three years old during the months immediately before and after handheld phone use was banned" in New York, Connecticut, California and the District of Columbia, HLDI said in a news release Jan. 29. "Comparable data were collected for nearby jurisdictions without such bans. ... Month-to-month fluctuations in rates of collision claims in jurisdictions with bans didn't change from before to after the laws were enacted. Nor did the patterns change in comparison with trends in jurisdictions that didn't have such laws."
"So the new findings don't match what we already know about the risk of phoning and texting while driving," Adrian Lund, president of both the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) and HLDI, said in a statement. "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."
The HLDI continued, "An Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study that relies on driver phone records found a fourfold increase in the risk of injury crashes. A study in Canada found a fourfold increase in the risk of crashes involving property damage. Separate surveys of driver behavior before and after handheld phone use bans show reductions in the use of such phones while driving."
"The laws aren't reducing crashes, even though we know that such laws have reduced handheld phone use, and several studies have established that phoning while driving increases crash risk," Lund said.

The release continued, "Lund points to factors that might be eroding the effects of handheld 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 handheld 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 handheld phone use has been banned," Lund pointed out. "This finding doesn't [augur] well for any safety payoff from all the new laws that ban phone use and texting while driving."