Acting on accident reports showing that talking and texting while driving is dangerous, nine states nationwide have banned all hand held cell phone use, and 34 have banned texting while driving. Of course, these new laws have ignited the debate about distracted driving, leaving stalwarts of the insurance industry questioning whether distracted driving truly does make roads more dangerous. The newest report denying the link between distracted driving and car accidents, sponsored by the Governors Highway Safety Association and State Farm Insurance, says there’s no evidence to prove that cell phone bans reduce accidents, and adds some confusing details.
First of all, the report notes that drivers are harmed by a number of distractions, including cell phones and food, but that these distractions lead drivers to pay more attention while navigating risky roads. The report falls short of suggesting that states with bans against talking and texting while driving should repeal those laws, but cautions the 41 states without handheld cell phone restrictions to think twice before proposing similar legislation.
Discussing the dangers of distracted driving has been a major priority for Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. Under his direction, the Department of Transportation has repeatedly shown that distracted driving is one of the leading causes of car accidents in the United States. For these reasons, LaHood has been tough on groups that claim distracted driving is not dangerous. When an anti-regulation lobbying group circulated a memo against cell phone bans last year, LaHood responded that “the simple fact is that texting and talking on cell phones behind the wheel is a deadly epidemic…to suggest otherwise is to put your head in the sand. To spend considerable resources to suggest otherwise is a glaring waste.”
Last September, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety president Adrian Lund expanded his past criticism of LaHood’s campaign against texting and talking while driving. LaHood fired back with a barrage of facts proving the success of anti-distracted driving programs. He pointed to pilot distracted driving enforcement programs in Syracuse NY and Hartford CT, which both showed a drastic decrease in the number of distracted drivers. This type of enforcement spread across the United States, he wrote, would eventually lead to a serious drop in distracted driving accidents.
Since we all enjoy using our cell phones, it would be tempting to believe that texting while driving was not, in fact, dangerous. But this new report leaves out the fact that distracted driving contributes to 6,000 deaths and 500,000 injuries from car accidents each year. We should be putting resources toward cutting down on the dangerous practice, rather than blurring the facts to make it seem harmless.
Photo credit: Lord Jim