Are new state and federal laws and regulations banning cellphone use and texting while driving a bust, failing to reduce accidents? That’s what a new study by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) has found in a recent study.
But first, some background on the Institute, which is an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Both organizations are supported by what seems like an endless list of insurers.
Here is how both describe themselves on their Web site: “The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is an independent, nonprofit, scientific, and educational organization dedicated to reducing the losses — deaths, injuries, and property damage — from crashes on the nation’s highways…The Highway Loss Data Institute shares and supports this mission through scientific studies of insurance data representing the human and economic losses resulting from the ownership and operation of different types of vehicles and by publishing insurance loss results by vehicle make and model.”
Keep all this in mind when you hear the results of their study, which got press in many newspapers last Friday, including The Los Angeles Times http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-cellphones30-2010jan30,0,1114154.story
, The New York Times http://bayarea.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/01/29/sampler-palo-alto-to-plant-trees-and-san-jose-to-consider-tree-maintenance-tax/ and the The Mercury News. http://www.mercurynews.com/top-stories/ci_14290083
In a press release http://www.iihs.org/news/rss/pr012910.html dated Jan. 29, HDLI said it found no reduction in crashes after hand-held phone bans took effect. It compared insurance claims for crash damage in four jurisdictions before and after such bans, and and claim rates were similar to nearby states without the bans.
HDLI looked at New York, the District of Columbia, Connecticut and California.
“The laws aren’t reducing crashes, even though we know that such laws have reduced hand-held phone use, and several studies have established that phoning while driving increases crash risk,” Adrian Lund, president of both the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and HLDI, said in the HLDI press release.
The HLDI database doesn’t identify drivers using cellphones when their crashes occur. However, reductions in observed phone use following bans are so substantial and estimated effects of phone use on crash risk are so large that reductions in aggregate crashes would be expected, the group said
In New York, the HLDI researchers did see a drop in collision claim frequencies, relative to comparison states, but this decreasing trend began well before the state’s ban on hand-held phoning while driving and actually paused briefly when the ban took effect, according to the HLDI. Trends in the District of Columbia, Connecticut, and California didn’t change.
“So the new findings don’t match what we already know about the risk of phoning and texting while driving,” Lund said. “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 cellphones and the risk of phoning while driving. We’re currently gathering data to figure out this mismatch.”
The HLDI suggest other factors that might be eroding the effects of hand-held phone bans on crashes. One is that drivers in jurisdictions with such bans may be switching to hands-free phones because no 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 hand-held or hands-free, according to the HNLI.
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, according to HNL.
“Whatever the reason, the key finding is that crashes aren’t going down where hand-held phone use has been banned,” Lund said out. “This finding doesn’t auger well for any safety payoff from all the new laws that ban phone use and texting while driving.”
As bizarre as this study seems, I am not surprised by the findings. Cell phones are distracting, regardless of whether you are using the hands free device. What is worse is touch screen cell phones that require you to look at the phone to answer. Even worse is scrambling for the hands free device, while trying to answer. Distractions equal accidents. Mobile computers that can also answer phone calls in a car (are you listening Apple) should be illegal.