Texting Bans Fail as Drivers Ignore Rules, Study Says

Bans on texting while driving fail to reduce crash rates because motorists ignore the rules, according to a study by the Highway Loss Data Institute, a group funded by the insurance industry.

Crashes increased in three of four states it surveyed where driver texting was banned, according to the group’s statement released today. The study focused on collision claims in the states before and after they enacted bans.

Laws against texting from mobile phones have been enacted in 30 states since 2004, and almost half of them this year, the group said. The Obama administration has called for a federal law outlawing driver texting. More than 5,800 traffic deaths were tied to distracted driving in 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“Texting bans haven’t reduced crashes at all,” said Adrian Lund, president of the Highway Loss Data Institute and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, in the statement.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the results were misleading. They don’t match up with his agency’s research showing that deadly distracted driving declines when laws are strictly enforced, he said in a statement.

The “narrow findings” of the report fail to indicate that all texting bans fail, and no evidence exists that state bans on driver texting cause crashes, the National Safety Council said in an e-mailed statement today. The council said the study took place in the four states “when consistent, uniform and effective enforcement was not in place.”

Laws must combine enforcement and public education for texting bans to work, according to a statement today from Allstate Corp., the largest publicly traded U.S. home and auto insurer. “Legislation is only the first step,” said Joan Walker, vice president of corporate relations for the Northbrook Illinois-based company. “To have real impact, laws must be strongly enforced.”

The Highway Loss Data Institute study covered four states that prohibited driver texting in 2008 and 2009, California, Louisiana, Minnesota and Washington. Lund said that the bans may worsen the problem as drivers moved their phones out of sight to avoid detection, shifting their eyes farther from the road.

Young drivers are more likely than older people to text while driving, and collision rates among drivers younger than 25 increased in the four states studied. The biggest crash increase in the study was among young drivers in California, where collision claims rose 12 percent after the bans were enacted.

Drivers aged 18 to 24 were also the most likely to ignore the laws, the study said. In states with bans, 45 percent of that age group reported flouting the law, compared with 48 percent of drivers who said that they text while driving in states without bans.

Crash increases among all drivers ranged from one percent in Washington to nine percent in Minnesota, the study said. Texting rose 60 percent, to 1.6 trillion in 2009, from 1 trillion messages in 2008, the institute said.