Laws in California restricting cellphone use while driving may not reduce the number of traffic accidents.
According to a recent study by a researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder, the California ban on using a cellphone while driving hasn’t cut the number of accidents in the first six months following the ban. The findings were recently published in the journal Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice and could be considered surprising considering the prior research that suggests driving while talking on a phone is risky. One previously released study revealed that people talking on a cell phone while driving were as impaired as an intoxicated driver.
The cellphone ban went into place in California on July 1, 2008 and the researchers analyzed the number of daily accidents in the six months leading up to the law’s enactment, comparing them to the number of accidents six months later. By looking at a relatively narrow window of time, the researchers hoped to reduce the number of other variables like the introduction of safer cars that could affect accident rates. The data was also corrected for precipitation, gas prices and other observable factors that could influence accidents.
As a result, the study concluded that the ban didn’t result in a decreased number of accidents and though it wasn’t designed to determine why, one of the researchers, Daniel Kaffine, gave several possible reasons. One is that people switched from physically using their phones to hands-free devices, which could be just as distracting as holding the phone near the ear. He also suggested that a driver used to using a cell phone might just turn their attention to other distracting devices like an infotainment system rather than focusing more on driving. It’s also possible that past studies on the risk of cellphone use overestimated the danger.
“Disentangling these effects will be useful for policymakers in other states who are considering policies to address distracted driving,” Kaffine said. “However, our results suggest that simply banning hand-held cellphone use may not produce the desired increase in traffic safety.”