"It was pretty clear to us that there was no compelling evidence of a decrease in accidents" – Daniel Kaffine

Common sense says that talking on a cellphone while driving is not a particularly safe thing to do. But recent studies have found banning cellphone use while behind the wheel is not leading to a decrease in accidents.

The results are somewhat surprising and have left researchers and regulators scratching their heads, especially given that 13 states, the District of Columbia and several US territories have hand-held cellphone bans. Additionally, 44 states specifically outlaw texting while driving, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

The most recent study, published this summer in the journal Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, analyzed California's cellphone ban for drivers in 2008. Researchers found the number of accidents only dropped from 66.7 per day to 65.2 per day statewide, a statistically minor decline. The results were mirrored in many of the state's major cities, including San Francisco, though Los Angeles did experience a slight decrease in accidents. Researchers looked at the six-month periods before and after the ban went into place on July 1, 2008.

"We went in there expecting to see something," Daniel Kaffine, one of the study's authors, told Autoblog. "[But] it was pretty clear to us that there was no compelling evidence of a decrease in accidents."

Though offsetting for safety advocates, Kaffine's research is in line with other findings. The Highway Loss Data Institute, the research arm of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, studied insurance claims rates in 2009 and 2010 studies, and found no link that bans helped decrease crashes.
Cell Phone Ban

"There is no evidence that various kinds of cellphone restrictions states have enacted have reduced crashes" – Russ Rader

"Unfortunately, there is no evidence that various kinds of cellphone restrictions states have enacted have reduced crashes," said Russ Rader, IIHS senior vice president of communications.

Conversely, California's Office of Traffic Safety said in 2012 that research conducted by the University of California, Berkley, found a 22-percent drop in traffic deaths in the two years after the ban went into effect. Further, deaths resulting from hand-held use of phones was down 47 percent.

While the studies have focused on accident and insurance statistics, the results have spurred wider discussions as to why the roads likely have not gotten safer.

Kaffine, an associate professor of economics at the University of Colorado in Boulder, said it's possible many motorists are simply ignoring cellphone bans while driving. It's also likely hands-free devices, while meeting the letter of the law, are still distracting. And with a fine hanging over their heads, drivers may also be more reluctant to disclose that they were using their cellphones during an accident, Kaffine said.

Cellphone use may not be as bad as previously believed.

Another theory is drivers who talk on their cellphones are already easily distracted, and even if they do comply with the law, something else – like the GPS, satellite radio, passengers or even other motorists – is capturing their attention.

"Cellphone use has become synonymous with distracted driving, but distracted driving didn't become a problem with cellphone use," Rader said. "People do a lot of things behind the wheel that distract them besides using cellphones."

Finally, there's the possibility that cellphone use isn't as bad as previously believed. Some reports claim it's as dangerous as drunk driving, which Kaffine is quick to rebuke, noting motorists can simply put down their phones at any time.

"The idea that it's as dangerous as drunk driving is not true," he said. "It's much harder to get undrunk."

Still, most researchers and motorists don't dispute making a call from behind the wheel isn't at least partially distracting. The question then becomes: how to remedy this? Bans on hand-held devices are one way to try, but the research of Kaffine and others suggests it hasn't been an effective tactic.


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  • 46 Comments
      EXP Jawa
      • 5 Months Ago
      Maybe the assumption that people actually stopped using their phones while driving isn't valid, ban or no. Around here in NY, it doesn't really seem to be enforced, even though they've made the charge more serious. Correlate the results with revenue generated by cell phone/texting tickets, then tell us how the accident rates line up.
        msspamrefuge
        • 5 Months Ago
        @EXP Jawa
        Agreed. It being illegal doesn't mean people are going to suddenly stop, especially if police have to confirm the violation at closer ranges than nearly every other.
        Middleman
        • 5 Months Ago
        @EXP Jawa
        I was thinking the same thing. I kept waiting as I read for them to mention how the study addressed this, but it never happened. The law is not adequately enforced here either, so people just go on using their cell phones.
        Jmaister
        • 5 Months Ago
        @EXP Jawa
        yep, no enforcement, ban is pointless.
      ayeco
      • 5 Months Ago
      It seems that drivers who are typically distracted by cell phones simply find a new distraction and are as dangerous as before.
      Chuggowitz
      • 5 Months Ago
      When have laws ever made people think sensibly?
      wem1000
      • 5 Months Ago
      I agree that cell phone bans haven't really had an impact on the number of people I see using them on my daily commute. For me, people will always fall into the two simple categories: bad driver or good driver. Bad drivers will tailgate, have little or no awareness of their surroundings, not use turn signals, apply makeup, talk on their phones, run traffic lights or stop signs etc... the list goes on. Point is, some people realize that getting behind 2 tons of metal and hurling down the road is a dangerous activity that should be taken seriously. On the other hand, some simply don't get it and most likely never will unless they (or someone they love) is injured or dies in a car crash. So this statistic doesn't surprise me in the least... bad drivers will find a way to crash cell phone in hand or not. Idiots will be idiots, a cell phone is just another way for them to do it.
      Greg
      • 5 Months Ago
      Obviously creating cell phone bans isn't enough. Police need to actually enforce those bans. I've seen people use their phones in their cars plenty of times, even in front of police. Maybe if the ticket for using a cellphone while driving was more than a speeding ticket, police departments would push their officers to police the far more dangerous activity of distracted driving due to cellphones rather than the not-all-that-dangerous crime of speeding.
        superlightv12
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Greg
        Our local police don't notice because they are also always on their phones. But, I'm sure their calls are police related and very important .
      Porschetr
      • 5 Months Ago
      Before: Talk and drive After: Talk, drive, and scan for cops.
      NamorF-Pro
      • 5 Months Ago
      That's because people still use them. Almost every tenth person driving in the right lane I've come across is texting. This research is flawed.
        Edward351
        • 5 Months Ago
        @NamorF-Pro
        I don't think the research is flawed. The laws are ineffective. Two reasons I would guess; first it can be difficult to determine what a driver is doing at a distance, and second the drivers that are using phones and being distracted are likely the same drivers who would have other distractions with them. In the case of the second issue, unless people suddenly stop applying makeup, eating in the car, etc, I don't see a big impact in a reduction of distracted driving accidents.
      always_busy
      • 5 Months Ago
      Of course these laws don't work, they're nothing more than "feel good" laws; it feels good to enact them and makes everyone happy but doesn't actually achieve anything worthwhile. Another example is medication restriction. Where I live, you must show your license to purchase certain cold medicines. This was done to reduce people from buying large amounts and making meth. However, now meth is being imported from Mexico by the cartels, so the only people this law negatively effects is law abiding citizens. Our government is run by morons.
        waetherman
        • 5 Months Ago
        @always_busy
        Yeah, if only we wouldn't have enacted that rule about showing ID to get cold medicine, we would have saved American jobs in the meth-making industry. Now artisan purveyors of local small-batch meth have been pushed out by foreign corporate meth. What a shame. Our country is full of morons.
          always_busy
          • 5 Months Ago
          @waetherman
          The intent of the law was to reduce meth production which would reduce meth consumption. Since meth is now being imported, those that want meth can still easily obtain it. Thus, this law doesn't accomplish anything except make it more difficult for average consumers to get cold cold medicine. Also, no one knows what the limit is on how much you can buy before you get flagged, and if that happens you'll receive a knock on your door from the state patrol. Our country is full of morons who blindly trust the government to "protect" them with ever more Orwellian laws.
      Cody
      • 5 Months Ago
      It's banned in WV, but I still see just about everyone using their cellphone while driving.
      Ducman69
      • 5 Months Ago
      Not because cell phone bans are wrong, but because they are UNENFORCEABLE! Everyone still talks and texts on their cellphones, so the law has zero impact. If you actually got people to STFU and drive, you'd see a massive difference.
        superlightv12
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Ducman69
        Don't say EVERYONE. I pull over to talk, or I don't answer. I NEVER text and drive, never.
      SloopJohnB
      • 5 Months Ago
      The reason is because the stupid bastids are still yapping. And if not that, then they're feeding their faces, reading, or doing other than driving. Just shut up and drive.
      yomama6500
      • 5 Months Ago
      Using a cellphone while driving may or may not be "dangerous." It depends upon the conditions. There is no ban here in Michigan and I do it. I avoid using my phone in heavy traffic, when driving needs more attention than say, on the open freeway in light traffic, where I can pull right and slow down, and drive with plenty of space between me and other cars. But, that it is as dangerous as driving drunk was an idiotic claim in the first place. I do not text and drive. That's just stupid. Common sense, people. Use it. Nanny state indeed.
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