Safety and OSHA News

Do laws banning cell phone use while driving reduce crashes?

A new study measures whether there are fewer crashes after states ban cell phone use while driving.

The Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) research shows no significant drop in crashes related to hand-held cell phone use.

HLDI compared insurance claims for crash damage in New York, Washington DC, Connecticut and California before and after their bans took effect with nearby control states without bans.

Previous studies show hand-held phone use declines when states enact bans and that phoning while driving increases crash risk. So, you’d think there would be a decrease in crashes.

Talk about a disconnect.

“We’re currently gathering data to figure out this mismatch,” said Adrian Lund, HLDI president.

Lund says one factor that might be eroding the effects of hand-held phone bans on crashes is that many drivers switch to hands-free phones. Studies show that the crash risk doesn’t decrease with hands-free devices compared to held-held ones.

No states have blanket bans on use of hands-free devices, but 21 states and Washington DC prohibit beginning drivers from using any type of phone, including hands-free. Those bans are difficult to enforce. In North Carolina, its teenage driver ban on cell phones didn’t curtail phone use.

The U.S. Department of Transportation recently banned texting while driving for commercial drivers of large trucks and buses.

Should states continue to enact bans on using hand-held phones while driving? Should the bans include hands-free phones, too? Should government stay out of it and allow businesses to make their own decisions for employees who drive as part of their jobs? Let us know what you think in the Comments Box below.

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  • John

    The govt. should stay out of it. Most of the depts. in the executive branch started out as temporary. And most are unconstitutional. We need to stop being a failure-to-launch society.

  • Bill

    States are responsible for establishing and enforcing safe driving regulations within the states. I believe the states should ban the use of hand held and hands-free phones as the use of both distract a driver from their primary responsibility of driving without incident. I suspect the reason North Carolina’s ban on teenage drivers using cell phones didn’t curtail phone use is because law enforcement officials found it was difficult to enforce the ban. If we used enforcement difficulty as the logic for not enforcing a ban or law, traffic officers might also give up on enforcing the maximum posted speed limits as it is apparent teenagers and the great majority of the rest of us routinely exceed the posted speed limit.

    The Federal government is responsible for interstate commerce and have had regulatory requirements for the safe operations of commercial motor vehicle drivers for decades. The Federal government would be remiss if they didn’t continue to try to improve highway safety for those commercial motor vehicle drivers and the general public as well. Drivers that talk on phones and use other devices while driving increase the probabililty of making driving errors that could result in a collision. The DOT recent ban on texting is a step in the right direction. I would suggest that a ban be also included on “radar” detectors as obviously the primary use of a radar detector is to enable a driver to “know” when it is “ok” for them to exceed the maximum posted speed limit…and further increase the danger for other drivers with whom they share the road.

    While the Federal government and each state have safe driving enforcement responsibilities, each of us and our teenager drivers, must understand it is “my” responsibility to comply with the driving regulatory requirements. If there are no regulatory bans on the use of phones and radar detectors, we should also be responsible and mature enough to understand that while we can not control the actions of everyone else, we can and should control the way we drive. Unfortunately, non compliance with any standard is infectious, especially for those of us that are unwilling to be firm in our convictions.

  • Teena Mortensen

    I beleive that now that you are not able to use a hand held cell phone and only hands free cell phones we may see an increase in accidents as people will “try” to text more as you cannot see it. Alot of people either don’t want or cannot afford to go buy a blue tooth.

  • Mark

    The federal goverment is a joke and most of the time they are not a funny. They need to stay out of the states business. I agree hands fee cellphones and voice acivated calling should be required while driving. Its like taking with a passager.
    Use common sence and tell the Governement officals they are part time, with probono job in Washington. Go back to their real job.

  • Matt

    Bill has a point, and if people are paying more attention to driving there should be a decrease. However as I drive in my area I see multiple drivers still using cell phones in a state with broad restrictions. I do not think there has been a significant phone usage decrease and unfortunately will not be unless fines for use during an incident are high enough to make drivers think twice. Enforcement is diffcult as police are busy with many other matters these days than looking out for cellphone usage on the road. It would be interesting to see how many of the drivers who had crashed in the study were using cell phones as the study did not check this fact, “The HLDI database doesn’t identify drivers using cellphones when their crashes occur”, and it would have been much more relevant. Also I would look at who funded the study.

  • Tom

    I think Bill is a little overzealous in wanting government to enforce cell phone bans. I believe he has failed to take into account tolerance for government interference into our lives. While the goal may be noble, all human activity cannot be controlled by regulations or laws. In some cases, laws attempting to regulate such activity become counter productive and create a climate of disdain for the law as well as the enforcers. A comparison between speed laws and cell phone laws is mispaced as one involves a simple process of identifying speed through the use of physics and math (time and distance movement) while the other involves a much harder standard of visualization, a difficult task at night and through tinted windows. Obviously, the enforcement issue will eventually come down to enforcment through “signal detector”, which will cause a further invasion of privacy and an additonal loss of respect for the enforcers. I don’t know where the balance will be found, but simply passing more laws doesn’t seem to be the answer. By the way, there have been some studies that identify the “comfort” speed at which people drive on the interstate. I believe the figure was around 72 MPH for most drivers. It makes more sense to set the speed limits on these types of roadways at a speed that is the norm rather than trying to enforce an atrificial speed. The time and effort of enforcing an artificially low speed limit is wrong headed and a waste of time, time that could be put to better use. We have to think smarter rather than reflexivly and stop looking to regulations and laws as the first line in controlling human behavior.

  • Bob

    I think that any law that protect the public from unsafe driver habits should be enacted at the federal level and not by each individual state. Drivers should know when it is illegal to do certain unsafe acts no matter what state they are driving in. I was recently involved in an accident where a person talking on their cell phone did not notice that the lane they were driving in was closing for repairs. At the last minute she ubruptly changed lanes and hit the side of my car. When I hit the brakes the car behind me could not stop in time and rearended my car. Turns out they were also talking on their cell phone at the time. I don’t think that hands free talking is the answer either because you are distracted from what is going on around you whenever you are talking on a cellphone. I know what you are thinking…..well I have conversations with people in my car all the time and have never been in an accident. That may be true, but the difference is when you are in conversation with another person in the car you have another set of eyes watching whats going on outside of your car. How many times have you been in a conversation with someone in your car when they all of the sudden yell “stop” or “watch out”. When you are in your car alone and talking on a cell phone you do not have a second set of eyes keeping watch. That is why I think that all cell phone use should be illegal while driving a car. Should we allow people to drive a car and read a newspaper, magazine or their Kindle while driving? I think….NOT. I think a police officer should be able to ticket any driver who is engaged in activities that distract from their main purpose….driving. Reading, watching TV, Eating, Texting. If our society has gotten to the point that a cellphone conversations or eating on the run to save time is more important than our safety, the safety of our passengers and the safety of innocent people then God help us all.

  • Steve

    If you’re doing something else with your hands besides using them to steer your vehicle, especially if the activity also causes you to take your eyeys off the road, then we don’t need any studies to tell us the obvious news that this is dangerous. However, voice-activated, hands-free devices are much like talking to a passenger as a previous poster noted. Are we going to ban talking to passengers too? There’s a lot of ways a driver can get distracted while driving – is there going to be a law to control every one of those ways? The police would simply ignore it and focus on speeding and impaired driving which is a lot more deadly.

  • Bill

    Tom helps to confirm the points I attempted to make. Many people see a “SPEED LIMIT 65″ sign and have some difficulty in determing whether it is the maximum suggested, recommended or permitted speed. (Select one!) If North Carolina legislated a ban on teenage drivers using cell phones, it was not a suggestion or recommendation, it was legislated.

    I personally believe that it is not being overzealous to expect law enforcement officials to do what they are being paid to do. Consider me old fashion but I also attempt to comply with regulatory requirements and to attempt to change those regulations that I consider improper or inappropriate.

    There are many, many people that routinely break speed limits because their “comfort” zone is higher than the posted regulatory limit. Traveling above the speed limit (unless the limit was set lower to save energy, etc.), vehicles enter dangerous territory, even if they are all traveling at the same high rate. Those vehicles may be moving faster than the roads were designed to handle. At high speeds, drivers can’t cope as well with grades, curves, entries and exits, and more.

    Everyone is entitled to speeding-free public roads but no one is entitled to break the posted speed limit just because they are inconsiderate of others, in a hurry, disagree with the posted limit, observe others breaking the law, etc.

  • Bob

    So, we can’t ban everything that distracts a driver, but that shouldn’t stop us from banning one that is obviously distrating, is easy to enforce, and one that we have direct control over. Police can stop you anytime they want to if you are showing erratic behavior while driving…say if you are playing with your navigation system or yelling at your kids and cross over into another lane, but they don’t know the cause until they stop you and then they make the call. With a cell phone they can see you talking on it and know that could cause erratic driving. Hands free talking would have to fall under the observation rule. And if a police officer gets a call for a more serious offense then this driver gets a break. Ban cell phone use.

  • SafetyGoon

    Up front, I’m not claiming to have any solutions, just opinions. From observation alone, people driving while using a cellphone (hands free or not) scare the crap out of me. However, as pointed out by several previous posts people eating, reading, shaving, applying cosmetics, etc. while driving scare me just as much. I’ve observed several friends of mine with their young children while driving and boy, if you want to talk about driving distractions look no further! Are we going to regulate every one of these activities? We’re going to have to hire a lot more law enforcement officers as most of us are probably guilty of some type of distracted driving on occasion. To me it’s about personal responsibility, which as I’ve ranted on previously, is severely lacking in this country. On a corporate level our company has taken a stand and none of our employees are allowed to use a cellphone, hands free or not, while driving on company business. The company does not want to be responsible for the potential results. Why can’t we, as individuals, make the same connection? Where and why does that disconnect happen? I know, I expect way to much of people.

  • Bill Roush

    Most of those who have contributed to this issue are all identifying a large variety of distractions that are being used and abused by a very large number of drivers. I recall the sixty’s when the first “CRT” devices were being made available to be installed in moving vehicles, and the Federal Government banned such devices from being installed in any moving vehicle within the viewing of the driver. I do not believe that this law has ever been repealed; however it appears that the original basis of that law’s reason for enactment, no distracting television screens within the driver’s view, has either been lost or at least is being ignored by those responsible for enforcement. Many of our current production motor vehicles have displays and controls that, while not specifically a television, are every bit as distracting to drivers. How is a GPS receiver display mounted within easy reach and viewing of a driver now “allowed” by the very same Federal Government that banned such devices before? Some of the “Multi-Function Display Screens” that pose as combined radio, CD, heating and cooling controls, and all the other functions built into these devices are, at best, an obvious distraction to any driver. So it all comes down to “who is minding the store” when it comes to all of our personal safety. It surly is not our local, state, or federal officials. Are our police forces so burdened with the “violent crimes” that you seldom see any meaningful number of them actually patrolling our streets and highways to protect us from those who are constantly causing the problems? All distractions that are there that should not be there need to be removed from the driver’s reach and view. How many times have you had to take evasive action because another driver was doing something that they should not be doing. It appears that self control and doing what is right is not “in vogue” in today’s world. Is it because consequences are not being enacted anymore? I know of no state in the U.S.A. that does not have a motor vehicle law that states that the left most lane on multiple lane roads is for passing. But how many of you daily observe those that immediately go to this lane and stay there? Do you ever see a law enforcement officer do anything about it? Also most states have a law that prohibits passing on the right. Again, Do you ever see a law enforcement officer do anything about it? A large number of those who drive vehicles also know that the law enforcement officer(s) do not do anything about their disregard of the established traffic laws. So “They”, those law enforcement officer(s) who say it is very hard to enforce the cell phone ban laws were out there enforcing all motor vehicle traffic laws, maybe it would be more of a “deterrent” to violations of all non compliant activities. Because we are now a society that does not follow the rules and need to be constantly be policed. (Soap Box now put away) Thanks to those who do!

  • Steven Smith

    Most posters here are missing the point. Do we really NEED government interfering in another facet of our lives? They’ve already got their fingers on a HUGE part of our society, and still Bad Things happen to people. Look at gun control: criminals aren’t ALLOWED to have a gun, but anyone who wants a gun can get it. Government cannot protect us from guns. It is not the government’s job to protect us from all danger. They cannot. People need to be responsible for their actions.

    If one causes an accident, one is responsible for that accident, NO MATTER WHAT THEY WERE DOING to cause it! Talking on a phone, changing the radio station, picking their nose, these are all distractions; should they all be banned?

    Do you WANT the government boot on your neck??

  • Robert

    Mark,

    To make a point perfectly clear. You are NOT distracted from the road nearly as much with a passenger talking to you in the car as you are trying to listen to somebody talk on a telephone. When talking on the phone your brain is focused on what is being said over a little device held up to your ear. A passenger in the car takes about as much attention from you as other ambient noises with the exception of little kids that are acting up, they can and will unsafely distract you at times.

    It is being taught in Defensive Driving Classes that talking on a phone while driving takes up 85% of your brain function just to listen on that phone. That means while you’re talking on that phone and listening to someone, you are not looking in your mirrors or looking around you nearly as much as you should and you will be slower to respond to things happening right in front of you.

    At least with a passenger in the car with you, they are concerned about their safety as well and will give you a heads up incase you don’t see something, someone on the phone can’t do that.

  • Stephanie

    The media strikes again!

    Anytime the media can find something that the public has heard about, it grabs on and doesn’t stop until it has everyone convinced of something. In this case it was the danger of hand held cell phones. It sold newspapers, got people to listen, sold articles on the internet.

    What will it be next week? “Don’t drink sodas while driving, it makes you cross-eyed”.

  • Marty

    I have received numerous tickets for cellphone use while driving. I just pay off the fines…
    The cellphone use ban while driving is useless to me. I’ll just keep doing it.

  • Bern

    Welcome to the world of electronics.

    Everyone is going to continue to use cell phones while driving and they will keep texting. Until Businesses start instituting policies prohibiting cell and text messaging while drive the bans the government institutes will be useless.

    The next step is to not only fine but convict people that cause accidents due to cell phone usage. It is real easy to find out when the person last used their cell phone.

    The question is why hasn’t it been made a felony to kill someone while driving? This would help slow down the DUI driver and the cell phone user knowing that if they do get in an accident they could be looking at criminal prosecution.

    Just a thought

  • Karen

    I believe that hands-free devices don’t reduce crashes because of the types of phone calls made. I notice that when I’m using bluetooth my attention isn’t really distracted until the person I’m talking with tells me something I have to write down (or that I’m going to be driving into Tornado Alley during a bad storm – I think that would distract anyone). The writing stuff down is where it gets nasty as far as attention is concerned because you have to take your eyes away from the road to write something down, and have to take your hands off the useful part of the steering wheel in order to write the info down. I believe talking on the phone w/ a hands-free device is not the bad thing – it’s when ppl have to write stuff down that real distraction occurs. Because of how most people use their hands-free devices, it’s not surprising that having a hands-free device doesn’t work completely to reduce accidents. If a car’s bluetooth device could be set to record a statement during a phone call so it could be written down later, it would improve driver safety immensely.