With all of the attention being focused on cell phones and other in-vehicle distractions one would think that bans on handheld cellphones and curbs on texting would at least contribute to a reduction in automobile and trucking accidents. As a Maryland injury lawyer in the Baltimore area, I too was surprised to hear the latest news from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
According to news articles, an IIHS Study has determined that cell phone bans have not reduced accidents even though hands-free usage is apparently up. Reportedly, the study looked at the data and came up with this unexpected revelation. Considering just the frequency of traffic accidents prior to and after enactment of laws that ban the use of handheld cellphones, researchers found that there was no discernable reduction in the number of automobile crashes.
The information for this report came from the Highway Loss Data Institute, a research organization funded by the insurance industry. The group reviewed the monthly collision rates for insurance claims for vehicles three years old or newer in the months prior to and after bans on handheld phone use went into effect.
The areas analyzed included New York (November 2001), Washington, D.C. (July 2004), Connecticut (October 2005), and California (July 2008). That data set was then compared with nearby areas that had no ban in place — for instance, when researchers looked at D.C. they then compared those figures with statewide trends in Virginia and Maryland, and with the city of Baltimore.
Even with adjustments made for economic swings, seasonal changes in driving routines, and other variables, the researchers concluded that laws banning handheld cellphone use simply aren’t reducing crashes. Although some might say that handheld use continues, which may be why the trend hasn’t shifted downward, the IIHS still holds to its conclusion.
According to reports, the IIHS has pretty much confirmed that handheld phone use is down in areas with bans in force, which would seem to preclude the argument that the bans simply aren’t working.
So even though large-scale studies by organizations such as the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute has found that drivers using handsets were at several times greater risk of a crash or near-crash when dialing and up to 23.2 times the risk when texting (for truck drivers), the IIHS results are at best confusing.
Regardless, legislators continue to put restrictions on cellphone use. In fact, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is taking the issue of distracted driving very much to heart. In January, LaHood week announced a nationwide texting ban for commercial truck drivers.
There are of course several other possible explanations for the seemingly contradictory results coming from the IIHS. It may be that hands-free phones expose users to the same risk level as handheld devices, namely that simply talking to someone on a cellphone increases distraction to the point of causing an accident, not just the physical button pushing.
Another explanation offered has to do with the increased “migration” to hands-free options, which give drivers the ability to occupy themselves with other similarly distracting activities such as eating fast food or hefting a large cup of coffee while driving.
IIHS Study Finds Cell Phone Bans Don’t Reduce Accidents, FoxNews.com, January 29, 2010