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Do handheld bans in New York actually prevent fatal crashes?

For years, there have been studies, reports and statistics in the news that illustrate just how dangerous it is to text or use a handheld phone while driving. Distracted driving has been linked to many fatal car accidents, and states across the country have adopted various laws aimed at reducing these dangerous behaviors. However, New York is among the few states that have the most restrictive laws in place. A few states have no laws prohibiting the use of cellphones behind the wheel, while others ban texting while driving but not the use of a handheld phone while driving.

In New York, both texting and using a handheld phone while driving are banned. They are primary offenses for which a driver can be cited by police, but are these laws really protecting people? A recent report indicates that bans on texting and using a phone while driving may not be as effective at preventing fatal accidents as they could be.

Two economists looked the states for which there is complete data on fatal accidents available between 2007 and 2010. Out of these states, they then focused on the crashes that involved only one vehicle and one person, as theses were most likely caused by distraction. They then researched whether the number of these accidents decreased or not following a state's ban on texting.

In states like New York which have strong bans in place, the number of fatal crashes dropped by 8 percent following the ban. States with weak bans that only limit texting or categorize it as a secondary offense, saw little change in fatal crashes. Any positive trend that was seen in any state was short-lived, unfortunately. The research showed that just four months after a ban went into effect, likely when public awareness and enforcement tapered off, the number of fatal accidents generally returned to normal levels.

This means that that stricter bans often result in fewer fatal accidents, however it also suggests that ongoing and thorough efforts to enforce the laws that are in place are nearly just as important as the laws themselves. While there may be no way to prevent every fatal accident, having effective and enforceable laws in place is a good start to keeping drivers accountable for their behaviors behind the wheel.

Source: The Atlantic Cities, "Do Texting Bans Really Prevent Fatal Accidents?" Eric Jaffe, March 27, 2013

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