Today, nearly every state in the country has a law that bans texting while driving. But do these laws make a difference?
A group of researchers took on that question, comparing crash-related hospitalizations among states with a texting-while-driving ban and states without such a ban. And they found some encouraging results: Texting bans were associated with a 7 percent reduction in crash-related hospitalizations among all age groups, especially among those ages 22 to 64. To conduct the study, which was published in the May issue of the American Journal of Public Health, researchers examined data from the Nationwide Inpatient Sample from 19 states between 2003 and 2010 and compared crash-related hospitalizations in states after the implementation of a texting ban to states with no texting ban.
The researchers noted that 416,000 of the more than 2.3 million U.S. residents who sought medical care after a motor vehicle crash in 2009 reported that the crashes involved a distracted driver. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines distraction as activities that divert a driver’s attention away from the task of driving, such as cell phones, navigation systems or talking with passengers. While previous research has examined the associations between texting bans and crash-related fatalities as well as texting bans and insurance collision claims, the researchers wrote that this may be the first study to examine the impact of texting bans on crash-related hospitalizations. Study authors Alva Ferdinand, Nir Menachemi, Justin Blackburn, Bisakha Sen, Leonard Nelson and Michael Morrisey wrote:
In 2001, New York implemented the first state ban on talking on a handheld cell phone while driving. Several states, including California and Connecticut, followed suit. However, these early laws allowed handheld dialing and did not explicitly ban text messaging. Some states subsequently enacted legislation explicitly banning drivers from texting (reading, manually composing, or sending text messages, instant messages, or e-mails via a portable electronic device) while driving. However, because of the relative novelty of texting bans, little is known about their impact on roadway safety.
In zeroing in on the impact of texting bans, as opposed to more general bans on the use of handheld devices while driving, the study found that even after controlling for variables such as population size, states with a texting ban experienced a decrease in motor vehicle crash-related hospitalizations. However, even though texting-while-driving bans were associated with a significant reduction in hospitalizations among people ages 22 to 64, only marginal reductions were found among adolescents and young adults, those ages 15 to 21.
Overall, the researchers estimated that such reductions translate into the yearly prevention of 30 motor vehicle-related hospitalizations per studied hospital in the states with a primary texting ban. In conclusion: “Our findings suggest that states that have not passed primarily enforced texting bans should consider doing so.”
According to 2011 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31 percent of U.S. drivers ages 18 to 64 reported having read or sent a text or email while driving in the prior month. The public health agency also reported a 9 percent increase in the number of people injured in a car crash that involved a distracted driver between 2011 and 2012.
To request of full copy of the new texting study, visit the American Journal of Public Health.
Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for more than a decade.