Texting Bans Don't Decrease Car Accidents

Insurance industry study found that the number of crashes actually rose in states that passed laws precluding sending texts while driving.

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State bans on texting while driving have failed to reduce the number of car crashes, an indication that most motorists ignore such laws, an insurance industry study shows.

In fact, the number of collisions in three of the four states studied by the Highway Loss Data Institute actually increased slightly after lawmakers started levying fines on motorists for sending texts on mobile phones.

The new findings, released Tuesday, are consistent with a previous HLDI study that found state bans on talking on a handheld mobile phone while driving also didn't reduce the number of crashes. Overall, the studies "call into question the way policymakers are trying to address the problem of distracted-driving crashes," said Adrian Lund, president of the HLDI and its parent organization, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

"They're focusing on a single manifestation of distracted driving and banning it," Lund said in a statement. "This ignores the endless sources of distraction and relies on banning one source or another to solve the whole problem."

HLDI studied the rates of collision claims before and after texting bans in California, Louisiana, Minnesota, and Washington. Comparable data was also collected in nearby states where texting was not banned.

The institute found that collision rates did not change much from before to after the bans were enacted. In fact, the number of crashes went up in all the states after the bans took effect, from 1% in Washington to about 9% in Minnesota. However, the Washington finding was discounted because the rise was too low to be statistically significant.

Younger motorists were more likely than their older counterparts to text while driving. In all four of the states studied, crashes increased among drivers younger than 25 after the bans took effect. The largest increase was in California, which saw a 12% rise after the ban took effect in January 2009.

Indeed, the HLDI found that among motorists 18 to 24 years old, the group most likely to text, 45% reported doing so behind the wheel in states with bans, compared to 48% in states without bans. Many respondents who knew the practice was illegal said they didn't believe police were strongly enforcing the laws.

As to the reason for the increase in crashes, the HLDI believes motorists in states with bans are likely texting while also trying to keep their mobile phones out of sight to hide their activity from police. "This could exacerbate the risk of texting by taking drivers' eyes further from the road and for a longer time," Lund said.

Texting in general is rising rapidly. In 2009, the number of text messages sent on mobile phones soared 60% to 1.6 trillion from 1 trillion in 2008. In 2004, Washington, D.C. became the first U.S. jurisdiction to ban texting while driving. Since then, 30 states have followed suit, the HDLI said.