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Research needed to gauge whether cell phone bans reduce crashes
By Insure.com staff

Laws prohibiting drivers from using hand-held cell phones prompt some motorists to put down their phones while driving, but research has yet to show that cell phone or texting bans reduce crashes, according to a new study by the Governor's Highway Safety Association and funded by a grant from State Farm.

Study authors reviewed more than 350 scientific papers on distracted driving published between 2000 and 2011. Among the findings:

  • Driving distractions are involved in an estimated 15 percent to 25 percent of car crashes.
  • Laws banning drivers from using hand-held cell phones reduced usage by about half when first implemented. Cell phone use then went up, but the laws appear to have had some long-term effects.
  • Cell phone use increases crash risk, and texting is likely to be riskier than talking on the phone while driving.
  • Drivers are frequently distracted, as much as half the time while they are driving.

More research needed to measure effectiveness of distracted driving bans

"Despite all that has been written about driver distraction, there is still a lot that we do not know," Governor's Highway Safety Association Executive Director Barbara Harsha said in a statement. "Much of the research is incomplete or contradictory. Clearly, more studies need to be done addressing both the scope of the problem and how to effectively address it."

The report recommends states continue to use edge-line and center-line rumble strips, which alert drivers when they are drifting out of their lanes. The study also suggests that states record distracted driving in crash reports, monitor the impact of existing hand-held cell phone bans before enacting new laws, and evaluate other distracted driving laws and programs.

"While distracted driving is an emotional issue that raises the ire of many on the road, states must take a research-based approach to addressing the problem," Harsha said. "Until more research is conducted, states need to proceed thoughtfully, methodically and objectively."

Car insurance companies have a stake in the issue because higher crash rates increase their costs, which are passed on to consumers in the form of higher car insurance rates.

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