Comprehensive cellphone laws are more effective at reducing accident rates, new study finds

Texting while driving is illegal in most states, but what about reading or texting while stopped at a red light, or texting if the phone is mounted on the dashboard ? And is it legal to tap your cellphone screen while using Google Maps or your car’s touchscreen infotainment center?

Drivers and law enforcement often have mixed interpretations of what is legal, so language in state laws that is more specific about prohibited cellphone behavior is essential. and has the potential to reduce accident rates.

These are the strengths of a new study published earlier this month by the Insurance Institute for Road Safety, a not-for-profit organization funded by the insurance industry.

“Technology is changing much faster than laws,” said Ian Reagan, senior fellow at the Insurance Institute, in a statement. “One solution may be to broaden them, rather than trying to come up with an exhaustive list of prohibited behaviors.”

For the assessment, the researchers looked at rear-end crash rates in Oregon, Washington and California after those states implemented broad bans on holding or using a phone while driving.

Data from 2015 to 2019 from the three states was compared to that of the control states of Colorado and Idaho, which had already implemented texting bans, but did not change their laws to prohibit the use. other cell phones.

Accident rates in Oregon and Washington fell 9% and 11%, respectively, after the laws took effect. California did not make the same gains.

The results of the review suggest that broader cellphone ‘retention’ laws, rather than those specifying certain actions, can be effective in reducing crashes associated with distracted driving. Less clarity in state law regarding temporary shutdowns may partly explain this, the report said.

California, Oregon and Washington all expanded their laws in 2017 with language ensuring that only cellphone interaction using hands-free systems requiring minimal manual input was acceptable.

But Oregon and Washington have included language clarifying that the bans apply to times when the vehicle is temporarily stopped due to traffic or other momentary delays. California did not.

Greater clarity in laws in Oregon and Washington, especially around temporary shutdowns, may partly explain their greater success, Reagan said.

“Using simple and direct language to prohibit all cell phone use while driving, including the simple act of holding a phone, can not only increase driver compliance, but also make police more willing to issue warnings. tickets by making offenses easier to identify and less likely to be thrown out in court,” the report states. “The presumption is that increased enforcement also leads to greater compliance.”

In addition to increased compliance and enforcement, the severity of penalties would also have played a role. For example, in California, fines were generally lower than in Washington and Oregon.

“Our results suggest that other states could benefit from enacting broader laws against cell phone use while driving, but further research is needed to determine the most effective combination of formulations and penalties,” said said Reagan.

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