Laws banning texting while driving actually may prompt a slight increase in road crashes, research out today shows.
The findings, to be unveiled at a meeting here of 550 traffic safety professionals from around the USA, come amid a heightened national debate over distracted driving.
"Texting bans haven't reduced crashes at all," says Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, whose research arm studied the effectiveness of the laws.
Researchers at the Highway Loss Data Institute compared rates of collision insurance claims in four states — California, Louisiana, Minnesota and Washington — before and after they enacted texting bans. Crash rates rose in three of the states after bans were enacted.
The Highway Loss group theorizes that drivers try to evade police by lowering their phones when texting, increasing the risk by taking their eyes even further from the road and for a longer time.
The findings "call into question the way policymakers are trying to address the problem of distracted-driving crashes," Lund says, calling for a strategy that goes beyond cellphones to hit other behaviors such as eating and putting on makeup. "They're focusing on a single manifestation of distracted driving and banning it," he says.
U.S. Transportation Secretary and anti-texting crusader Ray LaHood says the bans just aren't being tightly enforced. The problem is, they're pretty much unenforceable.