CA ban on driving while on the phone had no effect on accident rate

July 28, 2014

Although California banned handheld cell phone use in cars in 2008, it doesn’t seem to have had any effect on accidents, according to a recent study.

University of Colorado, Boulder researchers studied police records of over half a million traffic accidents that happened six months before and after the ban. The research only looked at six months’ data on each side of the ban to rule out other factors that could have had an effect on the accident rate, like newer, safer cars.

Accident rate not the same as fatality rate

The number of accidents went down from 66.7 per day to 65.2 a day across the state, which is, statistically, a minor drop. The study did not look at fatalities, which might have gone down by a greater degree (we don’t know). Another study found that the fatality rate dropped after the ban.

The University of California, Berkley found a 22% reduction in fatalities two years after the ban came into effect, according to California’s Office of Traffic Safety.

 

So why didn’t the ban have an impact?

People could have shifted from using handheld devices to Bluetooth, according to Daniel Kaffine, an author of the study and an associate professor of economics at CU-Boulder.

“It’s possible that people who continued to use their cell phones were people who were more inclined to get into accidents anyway,” he continues. “Riskier drivers might have been the ones who said, ‘To hell with it; I’m going to use my phone anyway.’”

People who did not use their cell phones could still have been fiddling with other devices, if they were prone to distracted driving. So, they could still get in accidents.

Using cell phones while driving vs. driving drunk

It’s also possible that past studies, which were done in the lab, overestimated the danger of using cell phones while driving. A 1997 study found that it increased the risk of crashing by four times. That’s as dangerous as driving drunk.

“The idea that it’s as dangerous as drunk driving is not true,” says Kaffine. “It’s much harder to get undrunk.”

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Category: Road safety

About the Author ()

A graduate in English Literature from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, India, Nupur also has an MBA from the Faculty of Management Studies, Delhi University. Nupur is currently trying to be as savvy a cook as she is with a book. She likes watching plays and sunsets. Nupur first lived in Kolkata and then for a decade in Delhi, still her favorite city.

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