Laws banning texting or talking on a mobile phone while driving don't reduce car accidents.
"In fact," concludes the US Highway Loss Data Institute, "[texting] bans are associated with a slight increase in the frequency of insurance claims filed under collision coverage for damage to vehicles in crashes."
This counter-intuitive revelation comes from a study by the HLDI, which compared insurance-claim data in states that enacted texting bans with the same data in states where no such laws exist. Data from after the bans took affect was also compared to stats before the bans took effect.
Texting bans did not reduce accident rates, and in some states the accident rates increased after the bans went into effect. "In California, Louisiana and Minnesota," the HDLI reports, "the bans are associated with small but statistically significant increases in collision claims (7.6%, 6.7%, and 8.9%, respectively)."
Correlation, as the saying goes, is not causation — but the HLDI's study does prove that those states' texting bans did not correlate with a measurable drop in collision claims.
The study's data set was comprehensive — the HLDI is sponsored by 96 auto-insurance companies, which gather accident-claim data from what the HLDI says is "more than 80 percent of the private passenger insurance market."
The texting study, released Tuesday, comes to much the same conclusion as a similar HLDI mobile-phone study of December 2009, which concluded that "There is no evidence that bans on hand-held cellphone use by drivers has affected ... collision claims."
The HLDI's conclusions, however, don't indicate that texting or talking on a mobile phone while driving have no effect on driving. On the contrary, their report points to a US government-sponsored 2009 report by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute that determined that texting while driving by commercial-vehicle drivers could increase the risk of a crash by 23 times.
The problem, concludes the HLDI, isn't how a driver is distracted, but the mere fact of distraction itself.
"The long history and ubiquity of distracted driving crashes," the HDLI's texting report concludes, "coupled with the current findings, suggests that public policy that focuses on only one source of distraction (for example, cellphone conversations or texting) may fail simply because it doesn't recognize that drivers always are subject to distraction."
In other words, drivers who allow themselves to be distracted are going to become distracted anyway, anti-texting and anti–mobile phone laws or no anti-texting and anti–mobile phone laws.
"Taking away cellphones may result only in drivers defaulting — even unintentionally — to new (or old) forms of distraction," the HLDI reports.
"Anecdotal evidence from insurance claims files and police crash reports over the years," the study adds, "have provided an astounding array of ways in which drivers manage to be distracted from the driving task at just the wrong time — from adjusting the radio, to eating and drinking, to tending a child in the rear seat, to reading, shaving, and applying makeup, to swatting bees."
Although laws banning texting and mobile-phone conversations are currently popular ways for US politicians to prove to their constituents that they're Doing Something™, the HLDI has cold, objective, statistical evidence to back up its advice to lawmakers: "Most importantly for policy makers," they say, "laws banning these practices are not reducing crash risk in the United States." ®
The HLDI offered one possible reason for the rise in accidents after texting bans: "This unexpected consequence of banning texting suggests that texting drivers have responded to the law, perhaps by attempting to avoid fines by hiding their phones from view. If this causes them to take their eyes off the road more than before the ban, then the bans may make texting more dangerous rather than eliminating it."