Should There Be Laws against Using Cell Phones While Driving

Figure 1 shows the annual percentage of deaths coded as distracted driving in multiple states and nationally over the 1999-2012 period. This data comes from the Death Analysis Reporting System (FARS), a national census of accidents that occur on public roads and result in at least one fatality within 30 days. There are large inexplicable differences between States and annual anomalies within some States. For example, between 1997 and 2007, the proportion of deaths coded as distraction was 45% to 63% in New Mexico and 6% to 26% in California. Even after coding changes were made in 2010 to address some of the reporting issues, anomalies and inconsistencies persist. Therefore, data on mobile phone accidents in accident databases do not provide a sound basis for determining the prevalence of mobile phone accidents, supporting epidemiological research on the risks associated with mobile phone use, or evaluating the effectiveness of mobile phone bans. New laws would be enforceable because billing records indicate whether a phone was used at that time. Improved camera technology can also enable the automatic detection of drivers who violate the use of mobile phones while driving. In any event, just because a law is not fully enforceable does not mean that it should be abolished. The evidence is clearer when it comes to texting or manipulating a mobile phone. Publications from the naturalist study of more than 3,000 drivers showed that the risk of crashes was 2 to 6 times higher when drivers tampered with a mobile phone than when they were not distracted (Dingus et al., 2016; Kidd and McCartt, 2015; Owens et al., 2018).

Depending on the age group, there was a significant increase in the risk of crashes for drivers under 30 years of age and drivers over 64 years of age (Guo et al., 2016). In the third study, Jacobson et al. (2012) examined the effects of the New York ban on the rate of unintentional injuries per licensed driver using data from the counties of New York and Pennsylvania in 1997-2008. Regression models were developed for three county driver density groups, based on the number of licensed drivers per kilometre driven. New York boroughs and counties that include national parks and wilderness areas were excluded. The authors concluded that at the beginning of the ban, there was a significant increase in accident rates in urban/suburban and very rural counties and a significant downward trend in injury rates in the years following the ban compared to the years prior to the ban for urban/suburban and rural counties compared to concomitant changes in Pennsylvania. Jacobson et al. provided no empirical or theoretical rationale for their method of categorizing counties into driver density groups, so the mechanism underlying the different effectiveness of the New York ban in counties with different driver densities is unclear. However, the results suggest that the relationship between driver density and the impact of driving bans on crashes may require further investigation. Because distracting behaviors with a phone like dialing, talking, or texting are so dangerous (it increases the risk of having a triple accident), the California Bureau of Highway Traffic Safety has launched the “Put down your phone. Just Drive” public awareness and education campaign.

Like the “Silence the Distraction” campaign launched in 2015, it aims to appeal to smartphone culture and younger target groups, especially 16-24 year olds. The youngest and most inexperienced drivers are most at risk when driving distracted. The campaign emphasizes that all the functions of a phone can be distracting: using an app, browsing music or playing videos, looking at social media, maps or photos. They are all dangerous and illegal when driving, and the safest thing drivers can do is put the phone away and drive. Existing laws are inadequate; Driving without proper care and attention is a limited tax that can be very difficult to prove. In any case, whenever a driver of a moving vehicle uses a mobile phone, a potentially dangerous situation arises because he is much less able to react to the events around him. This justifies the introduction of a specific criminal offence. There are no reliable estimates of the number of accidents caused by distracted drivers. Most of what we know about mobile phones and accident risks comes from naturalistic studies.

Such studies have consistently linked texting or other phone manipulation to an increased risk. There is mixed evidence as to whether talking on a mobile phone increases the risk of an accident. Trempel et al. (2011) found that the results were surprising given the sharp decline in mobile phone use following the introduction of bans in three of the four jurisdictions surveyed and national survey data suggesting that not all drivers in prohibited states switch to hands-free phones. The collision damage database does not contain any information on phone use by injured drivers. However, collision damage data are dominated by low-severity accidents with property damage, similar to those reviewed by Redelmeier and Tibshirani (1997), who found a fourfold increase in the risk of accidents associated with telephone conversations. Given this sharp increase in the risk of accidents, combined with the sharp reduction in the observed use of mobile phones, a reduction in the total number of accidents would have been expected. The study used several adjacent control states to account for other factors that may have influenced collision damage rates, but it is unclear to what extent these other factors were taken into account. For example, Trempel et al. did not take into account changes to other traffic safety laws in the control and treatment states during the study periods.

They also included collision damage data only for recent model year vehicles, which may not represent the crash experience of older vehicles. The non-profit cites studies showing that the practice is just as dangerous as drunk driving. Thirteen studies on the effects of driving bans on mobile phone conversations on accidents were identified. Three were working papers [Burger, Kaffine, Yu, 2013; Cheng, 2012; Rocco, Sampaio, 2012], one was a memo [Ragland, 2012], and the other nine were published in peer-reviewed journals [Anyanwu, 2012; Bhargava, Pathania, 2013; Jacobson, King, Ryan et al., 2012; Kolko, 2009; Lim, Chi, 2013a; Lim, Chi, 2013b; Nikolaev, Robbin, Jacobson, 2010; Sampaio, 2010; Trempel, Kyrychenko, Moore, 2011]. The following summary focuses on the peer review work. California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Utah, Washington and the District of Columbia ban cell phone use while driving, and 17 states and DC restrict or prohibit cell phone use by young drivers. One of the strongest studies found no reduction in collision injury rates associated with driving bans for all drivers in four states [Trempel et al., 2011], despite evidence of reduced cell phone use in three of the states [McCartt et al., 2010]. A study of SMS bans using a similar approach found a modest but significant increase in collision damage rates in three states and no change in a fourth state [HLDI, 2010].

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