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New research supports cell phone laws

There’s news in America’s efforts to make highways safer by restricting texting and cell-phone-use while driving.

The news is that the restrictions work.

That’s news because the laws’ effectiveness has been questioned, in this space and elsewhere. Key studies — including notable research in 2010 by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety — found that even after states passed complete bans on drivers’ use of hand-held cell phones, the number of car crashes didn’t go down.

More recent research, though, has concluded that the bans lower the numbers of deaths and accidents after all. And that’s important, given that national numbers suggest an alarming increase in distracted driving (“Distracted driving is becoming ‘epidemic,’” Page A1, June 29).

California banned hand-held cell phone use while driving in 2008. And in 2012, the University of California-Berkeley released a study suggesting that the ban had made a big and positive difference:

The study compared the number of fatalities and injuries overall and for distracted driving, including both hand-held and hands-free cell phone use.

It took a look at the two-year periods before and after 2008, when the California ban took effect.

And it concluded that “deaths due to hand-held cell phone use by drivers have dropped since California enacted a ban on hand-held cell phone use while driving in July, 2008,” a press release from the California Office of Traffic Safety reported.

The analysis “showed that, when looking at state crash records two years before and two years after the hand-held ban went into effect, overall traffic deaths declined 22 percent while hand-held cell phone driver deaths went down 47 percent.”

A 2012 study from the University of Illinois-Urbana also found that the bans improved highway safety. “The results show that imposing handheld cell phone and texting bans led to significant reductions in the number of fatalities occurring in motor vehicle crashes,” the study concludes.

Furthermore, “primary enforcement” — which means letting police ticket drivers for cell-phone use alone — works better than “secondary enforcement,” in which officers first must witness the driver making another violation such as speeding:

“States that adopted primary bans experienced a reduction that was seven times higher than those states that only adopted secondary bans.”

It’s not clear why these findings differ from the ones found in the earlier studies. But just as those earlier studies were worth noting, so, too, are these newer ones, along with their conclusions that cell-phone restrictions can have a lifesaving impact on America’s roads. — Tom Dennis for the Grand Forks Herald