Study supports expansion of TX bans on texting and handheld phone use

A new study quantifies the life-saving effects of population-wide bans on texting and handheld cellphone use, which Texas currently lacks.

Over the last several years, various studies have shown that distracted driving greatly raises the risk of accidents. Cellphone use is especially dangerous: talking on the phone raises a driver's crash risk fourfold, while texting can increase the likelihood of an accident by 8 to 23 times, according to the National Safety Council.

Despite these findings, experts have debated whether bans on texting or general handheld cellphone use actually save lives. A new study suggests that these bans do offer significant safety gains and that Texas drivers could benefit from stricter laws applying to more drivers.

Study: Bans save lives

The study from the University of Alabama compared how effective different distracted driving laws - including primary and secondary texting bans, age-based texting bans and general handheld cellphone bans - are at reducing fatal accidents. The researchers surveyed more than 11 years of data collected from all 48 contiguous states, according to the Washington Post.

After controlling for other factors that could have affected accident rates, researchers concluded that primary texting bans reduce traffic fatalities by 3 percent. This translates to an average of 19 lives saved annually in each state, though statistically, the figure would be larger in a high-population state, such as Texas. General handheld cellphone bans were most effective at lowering fatalities among drivers between ages 21 and 64.

Primary texting bans targeting teens were the most effective type of ban at saving lives; they were associated with an 11 percent drop in fatalities among drivers in that age group. Texas already bans texting as well as cellphone use for drivers younger than 18, along with bus drivers, but the overall study findings suggest the state could see greater safety gains if it expanded these laws to include the general population.

Current cost of distracted driving

Unfortunately, distracted driving is not a trivial issue in Texas. In 2012, cellphone use was a known factor in more than 3,283 crashes in the state, according to the NSC. Driver inattention contributed to 82,833 crashes, while driver distraction -which includes all kinds of inattentive and careless behavior, from eating to grooming - contributed to 10,261 accidents.

Earlier this year, the Texas Department of Transportation reported similarly alarming statistics for 2013:

  • Distracted driving resulted in 459 deaths, with young adults and drivers over age 45 suffering the most fatalities.
  • Altogether, 94,943 state accidents involved distracted driving, representing a 4 percent increase over the number of distracted driving accidents in 2012.
  • Roughly one in five crashes in Texas occurs due to distracted driving.

Sadly, without more comprehensive distracted driving laws, these accidents may affect just as many Texas residents and visitors this year. Anyone who has been harmed in an accident that a distracted driver caused should consider meeting with an attorney to discuss pursuing compensation.

Keywords: texting, distracted, driving, accident