Although some states have banned hand-held cell phone use for fear it causes distracted-driving accidents, one prominent safety group says there is no evidence the bans are effective.
Cell phone use is legal in 41 states and should stay that way until more research has been done, says the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA).
The GHSA report, Distracted Driving: What Research Shows and What States Can Do, analyzes over 350 scientific papers published since 2000. They found that cell phone bans may be simply a knee-jerk reaction, since much of the research is contradictory.
"Despite all that has been written about driver distraction, there is still a lot that we do not know," said GHSA Executive Director Barbara Harsha, who oversaw the report's development.
Nine states and the District of Columbia ban handheld cell phone use, and texting at the wheel is illegal in 34 states and D.C. The Department of Transportation reports that about 5,500 fatalities occurred in distracted driving crashes, and the National Safety Council estimates that each year 100,000 car crashes have been tied to texting and driving with an additional 1.2 million annual accidents involving cell phone use.
Instead, GHSA says states should keep track of distracted driving crashes, monitor the impact of existing hand-held cell phone bans prior to enacting new laws, and evaluate distracted driving laws and programs. Other recommendations include a texting ban for all drivers and a complete cell phone ban for novice drivers.
The high-visibility texting and hand-held cell phone enforcement demonstration projects in New York and Connecticut, modeled after the Click It or Ticket seat belt program, are proven to be effective in helping to change driver behavior.
"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.