Drivers know not to text and drive, but they still do it. Now there is hard evidence that states with texting bans are saving lives. With more than 7 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide according to the International Telecommunications Union and mobiThinking, that’s a lot of texting.
A new study by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health examined the effects of various texting bans on motor vehicular fatalities in 48 states from 2000-2010. They found that states with primary-enforcement laws for texting, meaning an officer can pull over a driver for texting and driving, saw a 3% reduction in traffic fatalities across all age groups, or an average of 19 deaths per year. Texting bans had the greated impact on young drivers aged 15-21 years – an 11% reduction in deaths.
States with only secondary restrictions, where the driver must be stopped for a primary offense like speeding and not just for texting, did not see any significant reduction in fatalities. The findings were recently published in the August issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
There were other significant findings as well. “We were a little surprised to see that primarily enforced texting bans were not associated with significant reductions in fatalities among those aged 21 to 64,” explains Alva O. Ferdinand, Dr.P.H., J.D., who conceptualized the study design and was one of several researchers participating. “However, our analyses indicated that states that had passed overarching hand-held bans (i.e., bans prohibiting the use of cell phones without hands-free technology altogether) on all drivers saw significant reductions in fatalities among this particular age group. Thus, although texting-while-driving bans were most effective for reducing traffic fatalities among young individuals, i.e., those between the ages of 15 and 21, handheld bans appear to be most effective for reducing traffic fatalities among adults.”
According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 14 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands have bans on the use of handheld cell phones for all drivers. Thirty-eight states and Washington, D.C., ban the use of cell phones by novice drivers, and 44 states have primary texting bans, while five have a secondary ban on texting.
What does this mean to insurers? Ferdinand says that insurers need to be aware of the impact of the texting bans on their insureds. She says “there was some indication that traffic fatalities may be on the rise in states with secondarily enforced texting bans. Insurers in states with primarily enforced texting bans, whether prohibiting all drivers or just young drivers from texting while driving, should note that there have been significant reductions in traffic fatalities in their states. Our findings may have implications for underwriting considerations. Moreover, insurance companies in states without texting bans and with secondary texting bans might consider advocating for the enactment of primary texting bans in their states.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that as of December 2012, 171.3 billion text messages were sent in the U.S. and surrounding territories every month. In 2012, 3,328 people were killed and 421,000 were injured in accidents involving a distracted driver. Individuals in their 20s comprise 27% of the distracted drivers involved in fatal crashes. The minimum amount of time a driver takes his eyes off the road for any task is five seconds. If traveling at 55 mph, this is equal to covering the distance of an entire football field while blindfolded – not something any driver would purposefully attempt. Because texting involves multiple senses – sight, touch and cognitive functions – it is becoming the most dangerous distraction for drivers by far.