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This study says texting bans work if they’re primary offenses

On the heels of the California cellphone ban study comes a study showing that texting bans do reduce the number of fatal car accidents. In this study, researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham looked at the impact of different kinds of texting bans, including whether the law makes texting while driving a primary or secondary offense.

With a primary ban, police are allowed to pull a driver over just for texting while driving. California’s ban is a primary law. A secondary ban means police must pull a driver over for another violation — say, drunk driving or speeding — before ticketing for texting. Parsing the data this way allowed for an apples-to-apples comparison of texting-related accidents from state to state.

One of the challenges for researchers trying to measure the success of texting laws has been that state laws differ. For example, according to the Governor’s Highway Safety Administration, 13 states and the District of Columbia prohibit the use of handheld cellphones for all drivers; 44 states and D.C. ban texting for all drivers. Some states bar only novice drivers from texting, while others bar teen drivers from using a cellphone at all. The only thing the 50 states and D.C. have in common is that none bars all drivers from using cellphones for calling and texting.

The researcher looked at pre-ban and post-ban accident data from 2000 to 2010 in each state. She found that primary texting laws were more effective at reducing texting-related traffic fatalities for all age groups; the laws were “significantly associated” with a 3 percent reduction overall. While 3 percent may sound small, it actually translates into 19 lives saved.

In states that prohibit only teen drivers from texting, primary laws once again proved more effective in saving lives. Here, the result showed an 11 percent reduction in fatalities among drivers age 15 to 21. For drivers over 21, primary handheld cellphone bans were more effective than the texting bans.

The study in our last post said that California’s handheld cellphone ban had no real impact, but the researchers there were careful to say that policymakers should not take this as a sign that the ban should be lifted. This study says more than that: This study tells policymakers to consider changing bans from secondary to primary offenses.

Source: Carrier Management, “Primary-Enforced Texting Laws Save Drivers’ Lives: University Research,” July 29, 2014

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