As distracted driving continues to plague our roads and kill people every day, state laws that are broadly worded to prohibit drivers from holding a cell phone under any circumstance appear to be effective in reducing rear-end crashes, according to a new research paper published today by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
IIHS researchers examined data from three states on rear-end crashes, which are strongly associated with distracted driving. Two states – Oregon and Washington – implemented laws broadly banning drivers from holding a cell phone or other electronic device while behind the wheel, including when the vehicle is stopped in traffic or at a red light. One state, California, enacted a prohibition on “holding and using” a cell phone but did not specify that it applies to temporary vehicle stops. Data from those three states were compared to Colorado and Idaho, which have texting bans but not broader cell phone restrictions. Of note, rear-end injury crash rates dropped 11% in Washington and 9% in Oregon after their bans on holding a cell phone took effect.
The IIHS study reaffirms the importance of states enacting clear and strong distracted driving laws. A recent report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and General Motors examines how national distracted driving fatality statistics are underreported, urges changing the social norm to make distracted driving completely unacceptable and offers more than two dozen recommendations for State Highway Safety Offices and their partners. National safety experts will discuss the report findings during a general session at the GHSA 2022 Annual Meeting this September in Louisville.
The IIHS study also aligns with previous research from the Behavioral Traffic Safety Cooperative Research Program (BTSCRP), a collaboration between GHSA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Transportation Research Board, which found that the most effective distracted driving laws include unambiguous statutory language that clearly defines when and how a wireless device can and cannot be used.
We must continue to push for a comprehensive approach to addressing distracted driving through state laws, equitable enforcement, the use of technology and a new social norm. GHSA applauds IIHS for this important research and its continued support of efforts to reduce the number of crashes, injuries and deaths caused by driver distraction.