Almost all states have laws against distracted driving, however those laws vary between states in regards to how strict the bans and penalties are and in terms of how the laws are enforced.
A recent study conducted by researchers from the School of Public Health at Texas A&M University aimed to find out whether traffic safety has improved in some of the states that have imposed texting bans, and found that there is a correlation between bans on texting while driving and the number of road traffic injuries. While previous research has examined the associations between texting bans and crash-related fatalities as well as texting bans and insurance collision claims, the researchers wrote that this may be the first study to examine the impact of texting bans on crash-related hospitalizations.
The study, titled “The Impact of Texting Bans on Motor Vehicle-Crash Related Hospitalizations”, found that the bans have a significant contribution for reducing crash-related injuries. The researchers analyzed crash-related hospitalizations in 19 states, comparing the number of hospitalizations before and after the bans were enacted. They took a look at hospital data from 2003 to 2010, and discovered that crash-related hospitalizations declined by 7 percent during that period in the states with texting bans, with a 9-percent drop among drivers aged 22 and older.
The findings cannot prove that texting bans caused the shift, said study leader Alva Ferdinand, an assistant professor at Texas A&M School of Public Health. But, she added, her team tried to account for the other factors that could explain the decline, such as laws on speeding, drunk driving, handheld cellphones and teen driving restrictions. In zeroing in on the impact of texting bans, as opposed to more general bans on the use of handheld devices while driving, the study found that even after controlling for variables such as population size, states with a texting ban experienced a decrease in motor vehicle crash-related hospitalizations. However, even though texting-while-driving bans were associated with a significant reduction in hospitalizations among people ages 22 to 64, only marginal reductions were found among adolescents and young adults, those ages 15 to 21.
They also found that the way that texting bans are enforced affected the prevention of distraction related accidents as well. “Our research indicates that adults in states with a primary texting ban stand to benefit the most in terms of potentially avoiding crash-related hospitalizations,” says Alva O. Ferdinand, assistant professor in the School of Public Health at Texas A&M University, one of the researchers who conducted the study.
This means that West Virginia residents have an added benefit since the use of all handheld devices was banned as a primary law in July 2013. A primary ban allows a police officer to pull a driver over for using a handheld device even if the driver hasn't committed another traffic offense. A secondary ban is different in that a police officer has to witness another traffic offense before they can stop a driver for using their handheld device.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), over 3,000 people were killed, in distraction-related accidents in the United States in 2013, while about 424,000 people were injured. Texting while driving greatly increases the risk of an accident. In fact, texting while driving is about six times more likely to cause an accident than driving while intoxicated. It can increase the chances of a crash by 23 times and slows a driver’s brake reaction speed by 18%.
This research aims to reveal the effectiveness of various types of texting bans across different states, so that lawmakers can see what types of distracted driving laws help improve traffic safety the most. This study was recently published online ahead of print in the American Journal of Public Health, one of the country’s most influential public health journals.