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HLDI - Texting Bans Don't Reduce Crashes… DOT - Misleading Report…

Release Date: September 30, 2010

It's illegal to text while driving in most U.S. states. Yet, a new study by researchers at the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) finds no reductions in crashes after laws take effect that ban texting by all drivers. In fact, such bans are associated with a slight increase in the frequency of insurance claims filed under collision coverage for damage to vehicles in crashes. This finding is based on comparisons of claims in four states before and after texting ban, compared with patterns of claims in nearby states.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood responds that the HLDI-Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) report fails to reconcile with previous research supported by HLDI-IIHS showing that drivers are four times as likely to crash if using a handheld device while driving. The research also fails to square with U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) research which shows deadly distracted driving behavior on the decline in cities where laws are coupled with tough enforcement.

HLDI researchers calculated rates of collision claims for vehicles up to nine years old during the months immediately before and after driver texting was banned in California (January 2009), Louisiana (July 2008), Minnesota (August 2008), and Washington (January 2008). Comparable data were collected in nearby states where texting laws weren't substantially changed during the time span of the study. This controlled for possible changes in collision claim rates unrelated to the bans — changes in the number of miles driven due to the economy, seasonal changes in driving patterns, etc.

"Texting bans haven't reduced crashes at all. In a perverse twist, crashes increased in three of the four states we studied after bans were enacted. It's an indication that texting bans might even increase the risk of texting for drivers who continue to do so despite the laws," says Adrian Lund, president of both HLDI and the IIHS.

HLDI's new findings about texting, together with the organization's previous finding that handheld phone bans didn't reduce crashes, "call into question the way policymakers are trying to address the problem of distracted driving crashes," Lund adds.

Month-to-month fluctuations in the rates of collision claims in HLDI's 4 study states with texting bans for all drivers didn't change much from before to after the bans were enacted. Nor did the patterns differ much from those in nearby states that didn't ban texting for all drivers during the study period. To the extent that the crash patterns did change in the study states, they went up, not down, after the bans took effect.

Lund goes on to state that "Finding no reduction in crashes, or even a small increase, doesn't mean it's safe to text and drive, though. There's a crash risk associated with doing this. It's just that bans aren't reducing this crash risk."

But, according to Secretary LaHood, "Tough laws are the first step and enforcement must be next. We know that anti-distracted driving laws can be enforced effectively because two DOT pilot enforcement programs in Hartford and Syracuse prove it. In the last six months alone, handheld cell phone use has dropped 56 percent in Hartford and 38 percent in Syracuse and texting while driving has declined 68 percent in Hartford and 42 percent in Syracuse."

According to research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving-related fatalities jumped from 10 to 16 percent of all traffic fatalities between 2005 and 2008. In 2009, for the first time in four years, distracted driving fatalities stopped rising, remaining at 16 percent of overall fatalities. The leveling off in distracted driving-related deaths coincided with the DOT's national anti-distracted driving campaign and numerous other public awareness efforts, as well as an increasing number of state anti-distracted driving laws.

It is common sense that texting while driving is unsafe – you cannot focus on driving and reading or writing text messages at the same time. However, the best method to deter texting while driving is a point of contention between HLDI/IIHS and the DOT. One thing is for sure, the DOT pilot enforcement programs resulted in many thousands of traffic tickets being written and thus provides incentive for law enforcement to pursue infractions of cell phone/texting laws.

Further information on HLDI's new study can be accessed at http://www.iihs.org/ne ws/rss/pr092810.html.

The DOT's response to the HLDI study can be accessed at http://www.dot.gov/ affairs/2010/dot18110.html.

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