In an attempt to increase highway safety, many states have passed bans on texting while driving. But the bans haven’t worked, and some states have experienced an increase in crashes.
A news release from the Highway Loss Data Institute summarizes the finding of a new study: “It’s illegal to text while driving in most US states. Yet a new study by researchers at the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) finds no reductions in crashes after laws take effect that ban texting by all drivers. In fact, such bans are associated with a slight increase in the frequency of insurance claims filed under collision coverage for damage to vehicles in crashes. This finding is based on comparisons of claims in 4 states before and after texting ban, compared with patterns of claims in nearby states.”
The study does not claim that texting while driving is not dangerous. Rather, the realization by drivers that texting is illegal may be altering their behavior in a way that becomes even more dangerous than legal texting. Explains Adrian Lund, president of both HLDI and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: “If drivers were disregarding the bans, then the crash patterns should have remained steady. So clearly drivers did respond to the bans somehow, and what they might have been doing was moving their phones down and out of sight when they texted, in recognition that what they were doing was illegal. This could exacerbate the risk of texting by taking drivers’ eyes further from the road and for a longer time.”
When Kansas passed its texting ban this year, newspapers editors praised the legislature and Governor Mark Parkinson for passing the law. In an editorial, the Wichita Eagle’s Rhonda Holman wrote “But it’s nice to know the state finally has a law against this brainless and dangerous practice.” In his written statement, Parkinson said “I am pleased to sign this legislation that will encourage more aware drivers and save Kansas lives.”
While Kansas was not included in the HLDI study, there’s no reason to think that Kansas will experience anything different from the states that were studied: Kansas drivers may be under greater risk of being in a crash after the passage of this law. Stricter enforcement of this law and higher fines will simply encourage the dangerous law-evading texting behavior.
The texting ban was included in my Kansas Economic Freedom Index for 2010 for the Kansas Senate. Senators who voted against the ban increased their scores in favor of freedom.
While I did not know the results of this study at that time, this is another example where instinctive distrust of government regulation was the correct diagnosis.