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Study shows that California’s distracted driving laws are working

As we wrote last week, California suffers from a huge distracted driving problem. This is in spite of having among the most stringent anti-distracted-driving laws in the nation. We are one of about a dozen states to ban the use of handheld cellphones in addition to banning texting.

According to a recently published study, however, distracted driving-related car accident rates could be a lot worse than they are. The study revealed that states with laws like those on the books in California have seen the greatest reductions in traffic deaths, particularly among teen drivers.

Researchers examined state-by-state crash data from 2000 through 2010. After controlling for other factors, the study’s authors were able to calculate the safety benefits produced by the various kinds of texting bans, enforcement of those bans and the addition of a handheld cellphone ban.

The highest reduction in traffic fatalities occurred in states with a texting ban that applies to all drivers (as opposed to just young drivers) and has primary enforcement status. This means that police can initiate a traffic stop if they notice texting, rather than having to pull over a driver for something else and then adding a texting citation.

States with any anti-texting law in place saw a reduction in overall traffic fatalities of about 2.3 percent. If the ban was primary, overall traffic deaths declined by approximately 3 percent for the general population and by an astonishing 11 percent among teen drivers.

Finally, states like California that have banned the use of handheld cellphones while driving saw the greatest reduction in traffic deaths among adults between the ages of 22 and 64.

The nation’s first texting-while-driving ban did not go into effect until the spring of 2005. Although it is hard to believe, the legislative fight against distracted driving is less than a decade old. Hopefully, studies like this one will remind us what we are fighting for and why that fight is so important.

Source: The Washington Post, "Texting bans work: They cut teen traffic deaths by 11 percent, study finds," Niraj Chokshi, Aug. 1, 2014

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