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California traffic deaths decline since cellphone ban
By Insure.com staff

California's ban on using hand-held cellphones while driving has saved lives, according to a new study by the Safe Transportation Research and Education Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

Researchers reviewed state crash records two years before and two years after the ban went into effect in July 2008.

Overall traffic deaths in the state fell 22 percent, and deaths of drivers using hand-held cellphones dropped 47 percent. Similar results were shown for injuries as well as for deaths of drivers using hands-free cellphones.

"These results suggest that the law banning hand-held cellphone use while driving had a positive impact on reducing traffic fatalities and injuries," Dr. David Ragland, director of the center, said in a press release.

An overall drop in cellphone usage while driving contributed to the decline in deaths and injuries, researchers say. In a statewide poll commissioned by the California Office of Traffic Safety last summer, 40 percent of California drivers reported they talk less on the phone while driving since the ban went into effect.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported similar results in February 2010 from a survey of drivers in states with cellphone bans.

Enforcement of the ban has toughened in California. Last year, there were 460,487 hand-held cellphone convictions statewide, according to data from the California Department of Motor Vehicles, up 22 percent from 361,260 convictions in 2010 and 52 percent from 301,833 in 2009. The cost of a ticket for a first offense is at least $159, and $279 for subsequent offenses.

Still, California Office of Traffic Safety officials say far too many people continue to use cellphones while driving. Last April, the office conducted the nation's first statewide cellphone observational survey and found 9 percent of drivers were talking or texting while driving.

Car insurance companies are among the organizations leading public awareness campaigns about the dangers of using a hand-held cellphone while driving. Besides saving lives, a reduction in traffic accidents reduces insurance company costs and the car insurance rates consumers pay.

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