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Study: Distracted Driving Deaths Would Fall With Universal Handheld Phone Ban

by John Gomez | Last Updated: December 14, 2016
Distracted Driving Deaths

The use of handheld and hands-free cell phones while driving continues to be a hot-button issue for many people.  The debate regarding whether or not to enact laws banning the use of handheld phones has been a contested one in several jurisdictions.  Some states have banned handheld phones for motorists while others have not.  Some published studies have concluded that using handheld phones while driving is no more distracting than using hands-free technology.  However, a new study focuses on young drivers.  This study concludes that a universal ban on using handheld phones while driving would reduce the number of distracted driving deaths in young people.  The debate will likely continue into the future.  Regardless, parents of young drivers should make note of just how much safer those motorists could be if they put their phones away while driving.

About the Handheld Phones Study

Researchers reviewed data from the National Occupant Protection Use Survey.  They looked at the years between 2008 and 2013.  These data were merged with legislation in different states.  The researchers observed more than 32,000 motorists both in states with handheld phone bans and without.  The researchers found that drivers in states with a handheld phone ban were 58 percent less likely to be seen talking on the phone when observed as compared to states without such a ban.

Researchers then broke the data down by states with handheld phone bans based on how long those bans had been in place.  They found the following in terms of the reduction in observed handheld phone use rates as compared to states with no ban on handheld phones:

  • Ban in place for less than one year – 46 percent less than states with no ban
  • Ban in place for 1 – 2 years – 55 percent less than states with no ban
  • Handheld in place for 2 years or more – 63 percent less than states with no ban

Those interested in reading the study can find it here.

This finding is important for several reasons, including the facts that: (1) 5,000 distracted driving deaths occur in the United States every year and (2) traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for people between 15 and 24.  As such, the researchers concluded that there should be a universal ban on the use of handheld cell phones while driving.  The thinking is that thousands of young lives could potentially be saved, particularly as the universal ban is in effect for a longer period of time.

Current Handheld Phone Laws

The laws regarding the use of handheld phones in the United States differ both by jurisdiction and by the experience levels of drivers.  Currently, 40 states and the District of Columbia do not allow what are known as ‘novice’ drivers to use handheld phones while behind the wheel.  The 11 states in which there is no such ban include:

  • Montana
  • Idaho
  • Wyoming
  • Arizona
  • Missouri
  • Oklahoma
  • Mississippi
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Florida
  • Alaska

There are currently 14 states that ban the use of handheld phones while driving for all motorists, regardless of age.  These states include:

  • Vermont
  • New Hampshire
  • New York
  • Connecticut
  • New Jersey
  • Delaware
  • Maryland
  • District of Columbia
  • West Virginia
  • Illinois
  • Washington
  • Oregon
  • Nevada
  • California

Finally, texting bans are extremely prevalent across the United States.  Only four states do not completely ban the practice, and they include:

  • Montana – no ban
  • Arizona – no ban
  • Texas – partial ban
  • Missouri – partial ban

Those interested in seeing the entire breakdown, provided by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, can find it here.

Distracted Driving Deaths – Cell Phone Use Data

The National Safety Council, or NSC, tracks and records many different types of statistics that relate to ways in which people can be injured or killed.  Distracted driving deaths is one of those data points that the NSC tracks.  In its explanation of distracted driving deaths related to cell phone use, the NSC explicitly states that the statistics are badly underreported.  As such, there is no way to know exactly how many people are injured or killed because a driver is using a handheld cell phone at the time of the crash.  However, the NSC reported that in 2011, the following states, in order, had the highest number of distracted driving deaths due to cell phones:

  1. Tennessee
  2. Texas
  3. California
  4. Florida
  5. Illinois

It should be noted that these are five of the most populated states in the country.  Hopefully more accurate data will become available soon.  In the meantime, those who would like to read the report can do so here.

Distracted Driving Deaths Among Young Drivers – What Parents Can Do

Just because there may or may not be a ban on the use of handheld phones while driving in a particular jurisdiction, that doesn’t mean that parents cannot enact their own private ban of such an act.  There are several different ideas that parents can consider to help minimize the chance that their child will make this mistake.  Some of those ideas include:

  • A contract – Parents can sign a ‘contract’ with their young driver that lays out duties, responsibilities and rights with regards to safe driving.  Those young drivers who violate the terms of these contracts can face remedies.
  • Communication – Perhaps the best way to reach a child in general is to talk to that child, and perhaps it should be done more than once.  Teens can be difficult to reach, but establishing an open line of communication with regards to safe driving may help the situation.
  • Apps – There are apps available that can block the ability for someone to at least send text messages while driving.  This may be difficult to do for several reasons, but in some situations such a step may be necessary.

Above all else, parents need to trust their instincts.  If a parent feels that his or her child is driving while talking on or otherwise using a handheld phone, that parent should consider doing whatever is necessary to put a stop to it before someone gets badly injured or killed.

How San Diego Car Accident Lawyers Can Help

If you or someone you love is injured or worse in a crash that was caused by someone who was using a cell phone at the time, you need to take action as soon as possible.  Seek the help of San Diego personal injury lawyers who have been fighting for the rights of those wrongfully harmed for more than a decade.  Contact Gomez Trial Attorneys immediately to schedule a free initial consultation.

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