Driving-While-Texting Bans Don’t Work

A new study suggests that laws banning texting while driving don't actually have any impact on accident rates.

Many states have gotten on the bandwagon of making it illegal to send or read text messages or emails on a smart phone while driving over the past several years. However, a new study suggests that the laws haven’t done anything to reduce traffic accidents related to people distracted while using their cell phones:

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Laws banning texting while driving actually may prompt a slight increase in road crashes, research out today shows.

The findings, to be unveiled at a meeting here of 550 traffic safety professionals from around the USA, come amid a heightened national debate over distracted driving.

“Texting bans haven’t reduced crashes at all,” says Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, whose research arm studied the effectiveness of the laws.

Thirty states and the District of Columbia ban texting while driving; 11 of the laws were passed this year. The assertion that those efforts are futile will be a major issue at this week’s annual meeting here of the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA).

Researchers at the Highway Loss Data Institute compared rates of collision insurance claims in four states — California, Louisiana, Minnesota and Washington — before and after they enacted texting bans. Crash rates rose in three of the states after bans were enacted.

The Highway Loss group theorizes that drivers try to evade police by lowering their phones when texting, increasing the risk by taking their eyes even further from the road and for a longer time.

Part of the problem with laws like this, of course, is that there very difficult to enforce. Unless a police officer happens to be driving past someone while they’re texting, Twittering, or reading an email, the only time they’re likely to encounter a texting-while-driving situation is when they roll up on an accident scene, at which point it’s pretty much too late. People know this, and the beeping call of the cell phone in traffic undoubtedly proves too tempting for all but the most disciplined person. The laws banning texting while driving, in other words, don’t really accomplish the goal that was set for them, and they may even make the roads more dangerous.

The IIHS suggests that a crackdown on distracted driving enforcement is what ‘s required, but I’m not sure even that’s going to accomplish anything. Police cannot be everywhere at all times, and it isn’t necessarily efficient to invest a lot of time and resources into “distracted driving” enforcement, however one might accomplish that.

In the end, this is a matter of personal discipline. Turn off the phone notifications while you’re driving, for example. Unless you’re the President of the United States, it’s unlikely that the email that just arrived is truly urgent.

FILED UNDER: Health, Science & Technology, , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Brummagem Joe says:

    Do talking on the phone while driving bans work? We have such a ban in our state but I constantly see people on the phone while driving. But then is it any worse than doing your eyelashes or face, painting finger and toe nails, reading the paper or docs, brushing your teeth, whittling wood, trying on hats, trimming your moustache/beard, playing with the dog… all of which I’ve seen being done over the years.

  2. floyd says:

    talking on the phone may not be, but “texting” is certainly among the worst on that list.

  3. Tano says:

    “Turn off the phone notifications while you’re driving, for example”

    Wow – now that will be effective!

  4. floyd says:

    A “manual transmission” would cut into “text time” at least in heavy traffic.

    How about a device which requires a phone to be 4 feet from the center of the wheel to avoid interference?

  5. Ben says:

    Let’s all be honest here. This law is only for 2 things.
    1.) The demand to “do something” about some new technology that is supposed to be the next great scourge

    2.) Gives police yet another reason to pull you over and start sticking their nose in your car.

  6. Trumwill says:

    Congress has apparently been looking at a nationwide ban on drivers under 18 using their phone or texting while driving.

    Adults don’t pay any attention to these laws, but surely kids will, right?

    On a sidenote, judging by all the shrieking over this issue and how talking on a cell phone is driving drunk and oh my gawd everything is going to heck in a handbasket, you wouldn’t have expected the number of accidents, injuries, and fatalities to be on the decline.