Posted on 29 Sep 2010
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and other transportation officials on Tuesday questioned an insurance industry study that found crashes increased in three of four states with laws banning texting while driving.
"Lives are at stake, and all the reputable research we have says that tough laws, good enforcement and increased public awareness will help put a stop to the deadly epidemic of distracted driving on our roads," LaHood said.
There has been a big push in recent years for states to ban text messaging while driving. Thirty states and the District of Columbia now prohibit all drivers from texting, and eight others have made it illegal for some drivers, mostly young ones.
The study from the Highway Loss Data Institute, an arm of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, was released in Kansas City during the annual meeting of the Governors Highway Safety Association.
It looked at crash data from insurance claims in four states that have made it illegal for people of any age to text while driving and nine states with no bans or very limited bans.
It found that in three states -- California, Louisiana, Minnesota -- crashes actually increased after the bans passed. The exception was Washington.
Depending on the state, the study looked at claims 18 to six months before the laws took effect to 10 to 22 months after. Critics complained it didn't distinguish between crashes caused by distracted driving and those involving foul weather or other factors.
Sandy Hentges, outreach coordinator for the Missouri Department of Transportation and one of the conference participants, doubted an anti-texting law would increase crashes, saying it seemed counterintuitive.
"I guess we're not convinced yet," she said of the study.
Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said defended the study, saying the results contrasted with the benefits seen with other traffic laws.
"When states passed seat belt laws, there was virtually an immediate benefit with more people buckled up and fewer deaths in crashes," Radar said. "With teen driving laws it was virtually an immediate benefit, and we just aren't seeing benefits with cell phone laws."
With texting bans, he said there could be more crashes because texting drivers may hold their cell phones lower to keep them out of sight and thus take their eyes off the road longer.
The study was released two days after the Governors Highway Safety Association decided to table a proposal calling for a total ban on cell phone use while driving because of conflicting research.
Jonathan Adkins, a spokesman for the association representing state highway safety officials, said the results weren't surprising given the weak enforcement of texting bans so far.
"Until more funding is available," Adkins said, "we don't expect states to be able to undertake serious enforcement efforts comparable to what is done for drunk driving."