KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The U.S. Dept. of Transport is pushing states to adopt a federal rule that bans cellphones across the country, but a group of safety officials aren’t so sure.
At an annual meeting in Kansas City, the Governors Highway Safety Association shelved a California proposal to urge state legislatures to consider a complete ban on all electronic devices – including both handheld and hands-free — while driving.
The group doubted whether a blanket ban on talking and texting is enforceable or effective.
In fact, there could be evidence that such bans increase crash risk.
"We don’t want this to become like the speeding issue, which we’ve already lost. Everybody speeds," Jonathan Adkins, a spokesman for the GHSA, told the Washington Post. "They haven’t shown that the laws we already have such as requiring the use of hands-free devices or banning texting while driving are very effective."
No U.S. state has yet banned all cellphone use. Thirty states and the District of Columbia ban text messaging while driving; and eight states prohibit handheld phone use.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and President Obama have decaled distracted driving "an epidemic" and the DOT has made bans on cellphone use – especially among truck drivers – a centerpiece of the department’s mandate.
Thirty states and the District have outlawed text messaging while driving, and the District, Maryland and seven other states have passed prohibitions on use of handheld cellphones. But no state has yet banned all cellphone conversations while driving.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that distracted driving led to 448,000 accidents and 5,474 highway deaths last year.
However, there are contradictory theories that cellphone and texting bans actually prompt more crashes.
The Highway Loss Data Institute, part of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, compared collision insurance claims in four states before and after texting bans. It found slightly more crashes after the bans took effect.
"Texting bans haven’t reduced crashes at all. In a perverse twist, crashes increased in 3 of the 4 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 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Researchers think drivers are lowering their phones so police can’t see them. And by doing so, drivers are taking their eyes off the road for longer stretches of time.
Lund says the findings call into question the way policymakers are addressing the issue of distracted driving crashes.
"They’re focusing on a single manifestation of distracted driving and banning it. This ignores the endless sources of distraction and relies on banning one source or another to solve the whole problem," he says.
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