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Study has new take on cellphones and driving, but keep reading

More than a few safety advocates were surprised by a recent study of California’s ban on using handheld cellphones while driving. According to the researchers, the laws had no measurable impact on the number of car accidents.

The state law went into effect on July 1, 2008. The researchers analyzed accident data from the eight months immediately preceding that date and the eight months immediately following that date. They expected to find a 5 percent or 10 percent reduction in the number of accidents. They found none.

What the data did not tell the researchers — and what the data will never tell them — is why there was no difference. They are not without their theories, though. One suggestion is that the drivers who were distracted using handheld phones were also distracted when using hands-free phones. Another is that a reckless driver is reckless with or without the cellphone.

One thing is clear to the author of the study: Drivers should not take the findings to mean that the behavior is safe. This study may merely show that earlier research overestimated the risk. And, as one law enforcement officer put it, “[T]he fewer things drivers do that don’t involve driving the better.”

What will become of all the research leading up to this? The studies that said that using a handheld phone while driving was as dangerous as driving drunk?

The results of another study, published since the California study, showed that primary laws banning cellphone use while driving are effective in reducing the number of texting-related traffic fatalities by about 3 percent.

Go figure.

We’ll discuss this study’s findings more in our next post.

Source: Government Technology, “Study: No Evidence California Cellphone Ban Decreased Traffic Accidents,” Joe Rubino, July 18, 2014Carrier Management, “Primary-Enforced Texting Laws Save Drivers’ Lives: University Research,” July 29, 2014

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