Increase in Accidents Since Ban on Texting

Emily Holbrook


December 1, 2010

It has been well publicized that the increase in cell phone use while driving has led to an increase in traffic accidents. A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute showed that truck drivers who text while driving are more than 20 times as likely to be involved in a collision as nondistracted drivers. The study found that texting takes the driver's eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds -- long enough to blindly travel the length of a football field at 55 mph. To date, 30 states plus the District of Columbia have banned texting while driving and eight states have banned handheld cell phone use altogether.

With in an increase in bans, one would assume the number of auto accidents would decrease rapidly. In some states, however, that has not been the case. In California, Louisiana, Minnesota and Washington, accidents have increased since those states enacted a ban on texting behind the wheel, according to a Highway Loss Data Institute (HDLI) study. "Texting bans haven't reduced crashes at all," said Adrian Lund, president of both HLDI and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. "In a perverse twist, crashes increased in three of the four states we studied after bans were enacted. It's an indication that texting bans might even increase the risk of texting for drivers who continue to do so despite the laws." Increases varied from 1% more crashes in Washington (insignificant) to 9% more in Minnesota (statistically significant).

It is difficult to accurately quantify the true effect of cell phone use on collisions because officers must rely on drivers being honest about the cause of accidents. Many in law enforcement suspect that there are more collisions connected to cell phone use than is actually documented.

Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called the study misleading, stating that his department's research shows that distracted driving laws could in fact reduce motor vehicle accidents. In his annual Distracted Driving Summit in September, he praised the growing number of states that have adopted laws banning cell phone use behind the wheel. But according to HLDI, and to the surprise of many, the efforts of LaHood and his department are for naught.

The situation is bound to worsen as society becomes even more dependent on immediate access to technology. Though the American Psychiatric Association has not yet diagnosed a technology addiction, some feel it is not far off. In fact, centers for internet and technology addiction are slowly becoming commonplace. The tech addiction may turn into an epidemic no state or federal law can stop.

Emily Holbrook is the founder of Red Label Writing, LLC, a writing, editing and content strategy firm catering to insurance and risk management businesses and publications, and a former editor of Risk Management.