MIND
April 23, 2015

Texting Teens

When states have laws that are designed to penalize texting, they help save lives.

Texting and driving are a deadly combination, yet many drivers continue to read and send texts while they drive. Because of this, 45 states and Washington, D.C. now have laws that prohibit drivers from texting.

But do these laws help? A new study that looked at states that instituted texting bans between 2003 and 2010 suggests that they do.

Crash-related hospitalizations dipped by 7% in states with the bans, compared to states with no bans, according to a 19-state analysis by researchers at Texas A & M University. And while 7% may not sound like a big improvement, it may only be the tip of the iceberg. The study only analyzed the effect of the laws on hospitalizations.

This benefit was seen primarily in states with enforced texting bans — those where law enforcement can pull drivers over merely on suspicion of texting.

The protective effect of texting bans was strongest among drivers 22 and older, rising to 9%. It was statistically insignificant among adolescents.

Even when other factors that might lower crashes were taken into account, such as laws on speeding and drunk driving, the link to anti-texting laws remained.

This benefit was seen primarily in states with enforced texting bans — those where law enforcement can pull drivers over merely on suspicion of texting. “Some states have secondary enforcement,” Alva Ferdinand, an author of the study, explained in a statement. “In those states, law enforcement has to catch you doing something else first — like speeding or running a red light — and then determine that you were texting.”

An earlier 2014 study that looked at crash fatalities found similar results: a modest reduction in crash fatalities in states with primarily enforced texting bans but no reduction in states with secondarily enforced bans.

Understandably, many people are not eager to give police additional powers. But with drivers continuing to check emails and send texts, enforcement of anti-texting laws may be one exception to this. Ferdinand says that the study's findings should encourage states with only secondary enforcement or with only partial texting bans to review their policies.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nine people are killed every day in accidents that involve a distracted driver. While this includes causes such as eating while driving, texting is especially dangerous because people have to take their hands off the wheel, their eyes off the road and their minds off of what they're supposed to be doing, driving safely.

The study appears in the American Journal of Public Health.

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