Texting while driving bans don’t work, may actually hurt, study finds

Government disputes results while states continue to institute bans

As more states ban the practice – Massachusetts will become the 31st to do so on Thursday – new research from the insurance industry claims that the prohibition of texting while driving does not reduce auto crashes … and may actually increase them.

(Buzzblog: Bans haven't worked? ... Wait.)

The research by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) builds upon similar results the organization offered in January regarding bans that address general cell-phone use while driving. HLDI president Adrian Lund was to present his organization’s findings at today’s gathering of the Governors Highway Safety Association in Kansas City.

"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 Lund.

As with the earlier HLDI report, this new one is being denounced as “completely misleading” by federal highway safety officials.

“Lives are at stake, and all the reputable research we have says that tough laws, good enforcement, and increased public awareness will help put a stop to the deadly epidemic of distracted driving on our roads,’’ Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement issued to the Boston Globe.

According to HLDI’s press release, its researchers “calculated rates of collision claims for vehicles up to 9 years old during the months immediately before and after driver texting was banned in California (January 2009), Louisiana (July 2008), Minnesota (August 2008), and Washington (January 2008). Comparable data were collected in nearby states where texting laws weren't substantially changed during the time span of the study. This controlled for possible changes in collision claim rates unrelated to the bans — changes in the number of miles driven due to the economy, seasonal changes in driving patterns, etc.”

As for what might account for an increase in crashes, speculation centered on the possibility that drivers were even more distracted by their own efforts to conceal their texting from view lest it be exposed to possible law enforcement.

LaHood has argued for effectiveness of such bans by pointing to data showing that highway fatalities attributed to distracted driving stopped rising for the first time last year.

Lund told the Globe he was anticipating push-back at today’s conference:

“I think they’re going to see it as an attack on their program, but it’s not meant to be,’’ he said in a phone interview. “Unfortunately, so far, whether we look at handheld cellphones or whether we look at the texting bans, they do not seem to be working.’’

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