Cell Phone Bans For Drivers Aren't Reducing Crashes

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Lawmakers around the nation ignored important data when they passed legislation restricting the use of cell phone handsets in cars, and a new study released Friday shows the results: According to a report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, "a new Highway Loss Data Institute study finds no reductions in crashes after hand-held phone bans take effect." The Data Institute is the research arm of the IIHS, and both institutes are wholly funded by the insurance industry.The study compared four jurisdictions before and after the bans, said Adrian Lund, president of both the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the HLDI. "Whatever the reason, the key finding is that crashes aren't going down where hand-held phone use has been banned. This finding doesn't auger well for any safety payoff from all the new laws that ban [hand-held] phone use and texting while driving."

The HLDI has not yet completed a significant analysis about why its new findings run counter to most impressions about the dangers of driving while talking on the phone. On the surface, the numbers, which show that hand-held phone use has decreased but that accidents haven't, appear to contradict earlier studies that show cell phone use while driving quadruples the odds of an accident. But Lund makes it clear that he still believes that all phone use while driving causes a high level of accident risk.

Looking at the data, the HLDI speculates that drivers, reacting to the restrictions on hand-held phones in cars, may be shifting to the use of hands-free devices. "In this case," Lund notes, "crashes wouldn't go down because the risk is about the same, regardless of whether the phones are hand-held or hands-free."

A conversation with Russ Rader, a spokesman for the IIHS, revealed another potential source for the some of the disparity between the findings of new study and the older ones: Accidents may be being caused by technological distractions other than cell phones. All of the new software and navigation systems being installed in cars decrease the focus the driver has on the road. Rader says that the research results point to the need for technology in cars that will alert drivers to unanticipated lane changes and tailgating.

In other words, it may take a new kind of auto technology to save drivers from the effects of the technologies they're already using.
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