Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Laws against 'texting and driving' haven't made us any safer.

We've all seen it: alarming, dangerous driving behavior perpetrated while under the influence of cell phones. In response to this threat, many locales (including my home state of Washington) enacted bans on texting-while-driving. Has the menace of distracted drivers been curbed?

According to a USA Today article, traffic accidents have actually gone up in areas where anti-phone laws were enacted. To quote the most interesting part:
"Texting bans haven't reduced crashes at all," says Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, whose research arm studied the effectiveness of the laws.
Thirty states and the District of Columbia ban texting while driving; 11 of the laws were passed this year. The assertion that those efforts are futile will be a major issue at this week's annual meeting here of the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA).
Researchers at the Highway Loss Data Institute compared rates of collision insurance claims in four states — California, Louisiana, Minnesota and Washington — before and after they enacted texting bans. Crash rates rose in three of the states after bans were enacted.
The Highway Loss group theorizes that drivers try to evade police by lowering their phones when texting, increasing the risk by taking their eyes even further from the road and for a longer time.
The findings "call into question the way policymakers are trying to address the problem of distracted-driving crashes," Lund says, calling for a strategy that goes beyond cellphones to hit other behaviors such as eating and putting on makeup. "They're focusing on a single
manifestation of distracted driving and banning it," he says. [Emphasis added.]
This outcome is another lesson in unintended consequences. Before the law, presumably people would text briefly and when the road conditions were safer. After the law, drivers were more concerned about watching for police, decreasing their attention to the road. Of course, the hope was that regulation would eliminate the undesirable behavior, but apparently the appeal of text-messaging outweighs the risk of a traffic ticket. This isn't especially surprising; if someone is willing to elevate their risk of injury or death by texting while driving, it's unlikely that the small chance of a fine will alter their behavior much.

It appears that texting-while-driving is here with us to stay. If government really wants to reduce the danger, perhaps they should regulate the auto companies (which they now own) install built-in heads up displays on the windshield, so drivers can stay caught up with MySpace Twitter and Facebook in addition to text-messaging by voice command, while never taking their eyes off the road. Then we'll see if consumers tolerate the additional cost that safety and peace of mind entail.


  1. Texting bans make criminals out of working class Americans. I wouldn't be opposed to banning texting on young drivers as they haven't yet had enough driving experience to multitask. But texting bans is simply a Progressive, "Big Government" philosophy of trying to over legislate rather than to let the people govern themselves.

  2. Texting and driving are two activities that bother each other...When you drive, all the attention should be on the road and not split in multiple places..
    I would forbid using the phone in the car without a Bluetooth device or headsets...
    My husband was recently accused for careless driving Toronto because he was texting....even if he came home mad I tried to explain him that the cop that stopped him was right.