Sign up FAST! Login

Do Texting Bans Really Prevent Fatal Accidents?

Stashed in: Young Americans, Best PandaWhale Posts, Cars!, Addiction, Consequences, Texting

To save this post, select a stash from drop-down menu or type in a new one:

They found that states with "strong" bans experienced an 8 percent reduction in fatal single-occupancy, single-vehicle accidents following the texting ban. States with "weak" bans, however, didn't show any significant improvement. But the effect didn't hold for long. Abouk and Adams report that fatalities rebounded in the months following the ban — and by the fourth month they had reached previous normal levels.

This rebound effect was sharpest in places without concurrent handheld bans. That suggested to Abouk and Adams that police have a hard time enforcing the texting law in the absence of a universal ban against handheld use. This conclusion makes sense: consider the difficulty of distinguishing a driver who's illegally texting and driving from someone who's legally driving and dialing. If drivers are allowed to use their phones sometimes, enforcing specific types of phone use becomes nearly impossible. 

So, to recap, "strong" texting bans do reduce the type of accidents likely to be caused by distracted driving, but this public safety improvement diminishes quickly in the face of poor enforcement.

Several clear policy implications emerge here. The first is that making texting a "secondary" violation is about as good as not banning it at all. The next is that even states that make texting a "primary" offense must maintain heightened enforcement to sustain the benefits of the law. And the third is that the easiest way to facilitate strong enforcement is to ban handheld mobile usage in general. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, only 9 states (including D.C.)* currently meet all these criteria. As more good research like this study makes its way into the public, one would hope to see that number climb.

"Strong" texting bans reduce fatality by 8%. Is that enough to merit all the expense of enforcement?

I'm sure not, when states are cutting dollars to law enforcement.

Perhaps there are better options, like automatic disables when the car is in motion.

The real solution is self-driving cars.  We're not going to stay disconnected for anything more than very short drives.  Almost right away we're going to have heads-up display glasses.  Someone will solve the discrete / integrated input problem.  And won't be long at all until we've integrated some of this into our bodies.  They're already experimenting with tattooed circuits and sensors.

How long before we can actually buy a car that completely drives itself? 10 years?

Possible in 3, politically possible in less than 10.  All that needs to happen is proof that, at least in non-snowy areas etc., that self-driving cars are significantly safer than humans.  At that point, you will be able to buy cheap insurance, or even get warranty-like insurance on purchase of a vehicle a la free charging with a Model S.  Alternately, since self-driving cars would be the ultimate taxi replacement, a heavy-use pay as you use model allows for heavy over insurance, probably self-insurance, against occasional accidents.  The future is closer than you think.

That's good because I'm ready to convert! Lower insurance AND I can text while being driven?

I'm sold!

Lasting change only comes about when a culture is fundamentally changed. Think about how society sees seat belt use and drink driving now, to how it was say 40 years ago.This culture change is due to a long and sustained programme of education over generations, underpinned by a justice system of fines, points bans etc. Likewise, smoking and phone use in cars will, in the long term, become as unacceptable. But there's a long way to go to change their culture yet.Bans clearly aren't the whole answer in themselves, they're just a supporting part of the cultural change process.

Well said, Julia. We won't see this behavior 40 years from now.

The main question I have is whether we can accelerate the "don't text and drive" movement now?

Speaking of behavior, texting is addictive.

I go back to my proposition above, that choice is taken out of the equation.

Communicating while driving will not stop.  It is nothing like seatbelts or other safety features.  In fact, it will get "worse": more pervasive, more intense, more persistent.  Treating everyone like a beginning, teenage driver who is untrained for driving well, let alone multi-tasking, isn't going to work.

I'd have to see some data that backs up a claim that more experienced drivers are less distracted by texting (specified: texting) than are younger drivers.

Companies and parents responsible for drivers in their businesses/households have every right to treat their charges as if they're human and subject to human failings.  I'm not sure the state does.  But if the rate of major property damage, injury and loss of life escalates, then perhaps that is the only way.  You may not like it, right up until your own property or someone you care about is affected.

Is there really a question about how distracted experienced drivers vs. inexperienced drivers tend to be? And especially about their judgment about when a little distraction is safe? To be specific, an inexperienced driver doesn't have the reflex for accurately monitoring how long is too long to look away, not look in mirrors, etc. They don't have the same automatic situational tracking, and they can't do it with as little cognitive load. They are less accurate in predicting motion and other drivers.

Assuming a typical drive a bit to the highway, drive on the highway for a while, drive a bit in the city, a very experienced driver could probably successfully drive with their eyes closed between 1/3 and 1/2 of the total time. More on the highway, less or none in the city.

The key is being able to reliably predict how much time could pass before the situation could change enough to require your action, and to alarm yourself before that time occurs. Both of these are something an experienced driver can do and an inexperienced driver is still learning. As long as distractions are kept to something much less than that time, you can be sure that you won't incur significantly more risk.> The fatality rate, or the number of people killed per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, fell to 1.1 last year from 1.15 in 2009.

Are people worried about this being rational?

Re: teenagers (i.e. inexperienced, untrained drivers):

  • While teenagers are texting, they spend about 10 percent of the time outside the driving lane they’re supposed to be in.
  • Talking on a cell phone while driving can make a young driver’s reaction time as slow as that of a 70-year-old.

> Several studies have documented that any distracting activity — talking on cell phones, texting, searching for music files — increases the risk of accidents. Driving while talking on a cell phone makes people drive as poorly as drunks, one study showed.

 > While nobody has studied DWEAB (driving while eating a burger) or DWPOM (driving while putting on makeup) you can bet these are not safe, either. They just haven't been studied yet.

There is a central fallacy involved in the tests and statistics people use to support banning "distracting" activities: That driving is uniformly dangerous and uniformly requires attention.  Clearly that is not true.  There are plenty of situations where it is dangerous to even look at the speedometer, let alone anything else.  There are also, for most people not driving in downtown Manhattan, plenty of times when there is practically nothing to do.  In those latter situations, attention can wane to some degree with no significant absolute danger.  With training, this can result in plenty of time for other activities with no measurable net loss.  Tests in this area are invariably testing drivers where they have to make constant driving decisions while trying to multitask.  And even there they found that some people, about 5% I think, can do the dual tasks just fine.  Why not test people on a long, clear, flat 4 lane highway at 55mph with no traffic nearby?  Additionally, there's no acknowledgement about partial attention such as watching for drift in the lane via peripheral vision.  Based on published studies, you'd think that doesn't exist.

In other words, dead time * distraction < high load time.  This is exactly like the situation with flying a plane: takeoffs and landings are crucial, full attention situations (almost, still have to scan for traffic and talk on the radio, and monitor the plane), but everything in between legally requires you to multitask 5+ complex activities at once, plus deal with passengers, and it is still boring a lot of the time.

Oversimplifying this because you think people are too stupid to know the difference or self-monitor, or to train to avoid causing undue risk while getting things done, isn't going to convince high-functioning individuals to waste their lives essentially doing nothing.  And it is likely to actually increase effective risk: By acting like everyone is being equally dangerous while texting or using a phone, you are losing the opportunity to indicate to novice drivers that there is an amount of training and experience that they don't have yet.

If distractions should be completely removed lest a driver make a mistake once every 100 million miles, we will have to outlaw radios, knick knacks, heating/cooling controls, talking to passengers, CB radios, eating or drinking in vehicles, etc.

The SJ Mercury News just reported that 43% of teenagers report texting while driving and about 50% of adult commuters report the same thing.  It is a pervasive, widespread consensus that it is worth the increase in risk.  Clearly, inexperienced drivers can't make that estimation accurately, but they need to be educated that they aren't ready to do what experienced drivers can do accurately.

In one of the links above, they note that until recently, the statistics measured accidents with a cell phone if there was a phone in the car.  In other words, they were inflating numbers for accidents related to cell phones by assuming that if it was in the car that it had an influence.  While certainly drivers can make mistakes with distraction, I suspect there's a tendency to stretch the texting stats in a similar way.


Thanks for the details, Steve.

It's clear to me now that (1) this is a problem, and (2) it is solvable through better technology like self driving cars.

The text input squashes together paragraphs that only have a new line between them.  My text above included a quote, then my own writing for a while, now all squished together...  Edited and expanded.

Also, 'Edit as HTML' doesn't add the result to the actual visible text when you toggle that off.  But it does save if you save.  Additionally, if a link is the first thing, you can't insert a line before it without it being part of the link (all underlined).

Thanks - it's much easier to read now.  And now I see your point.

We definitely need to improve our editing features.

But thank you for fixing. You make a very compelling point, Steve.

I'm very enthusiastic about the technology advances we humans are about to make...

You May Also Like: