Study: Cell Phone Ban While Driving Had No Effect in California

U-T San Diego reports that a study from the University of Colorado, Boulder, shows that California’s cellphone ban while driving has not reduced the number of car crashes in the state. 

The study was conducted from July 2008, when the ban was instituted, to the end of 2008. Daniel Kaffine, an associate professor of economics who co-authored the study, said, “If [cell phone use is] really that dangerous, and if even just a fraction of people stopped using their phones, we would expect to find some decrease in accidents. But we didn’t find any statistical evidence of a reduction.”

Kaffin was echoing a perspective that had been asserted in two other studies. One published in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy examined the effects in 2005 of free cellphone calls offered after 9 p.m., which triggered more calls from cars driven in that time slot. The crash rate did not ascend as a result.

A second study, published in 2013 in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, examined single-vehicle, single-occupant crash numbers across the U.S. as many states started to ban text-messaging while driving. The study discovered that there was an initial reduction in crashes, but three months later, the number of crashes returned to where it had been before the ban.

California officials rejected the findings of the Colorado study, stating that their data showed the cellphone ban had reduced the number of crashes. California’s Office of Traffic Safety commissioned a study which analyzed fatal crashes assumed to be from cellphone use for two years before the ban and two years after the ban. The study found that hand-held cellphone-related deaths plunged 47 percent.

Kaffine, though, offered some ideas from his study as to why the number of crashes had not dwindled:

  1. Drivers switched to hands-free devices
  2. Drivers are ignoring the law against using the cellphones
  3. The same drivers who use cellphones might also be performing other distracting behaviors while driving
  4. Using a cellphone might not be as dangerous as some have surmised

Kaffine said, “Determining which, if any, of these reasons may have led to the ineffectiveness of California’s ban could lead to better cellphone policies in the future.”

Using a cellphone while driving in California triggers a $160 fine for the first offense and a $280 fine for additional offenses. San Diego police have found a decrease in cellphone violation citations they have given; they handed out 19,466 tickets in 2011, 15,080 in 2012, and 10,971 tickets in 2013.


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