US Transportation Department Secretary Ray LaHood has it out for distracted drivers, specifically all you mobile phone users, hand-held and hands-free. To date, his campaign has resulted in bans on texting or talking while driving in 30 states. His latest salvo was fired at America’s commercial truck and bus drivers when he called for a complete ban on their use of mobile phones last month (December 17, 2010). LaHood cites government safety data that shows 5,474 traffic fatalities (16% of all traffic deaths) and some half a million crash-related injuries in 2009 because of mobile phone use. Would banning cell phone use for all drivers in all 50 states mean fewer car crashes and, consequently, cheaper car insurance for all of us? Or is LaHood off track?
The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS), an independent, nonprofit, scientific, and educational organization dedicated to reducing the losses from crashes on the nation’s highways, thinks LaHood’s crusade against distracted drivers is misplaced. Data from one of their recent studies (Sept. 2010) suggests that banning cell phone use, specifically handheld texting, doesn’t impact the number of car accidents at all. To the contrary, it may actually increase the incidences as guilty drivers try to hide their mobile phones while texting. The study cites data from four US states amassed before and after anti-texting laws were enacted. The results? Car crashes went up in three of the four states after texting and driving was banned.
IIHS isn’t the only group questioning LaHood’s “blame it on cell phones” campaign. A recently released study conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (MTRI), as reported in a Dec. 15, 2010 Wall Street Journal article, suggests “that talking and texting behind the wheel are a smaller problem than…motorcycle deaths.” The same article quotes MTRI’s Michael Sivak as alcohol is “the real biggie” when it comes to car crashes.
Car makers aren’t crazy about the all-out cell phone bans, either. They’ve been enhancing their products with to make it both easier and safer to use mobile and wireless technology while driving – an acknowledgement that mobile phone use on the road is pretty much an ingrained habit in Americans. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, whose membership includes Ford, Toyota and the government’s own GM, are lobbying hard to make sure Fed regulators don’t ban wireless links in cars.
One thing is certain, your ability to obtain cheap car insurance is directly tied to your personal driving habits as well as overall car crash claim statistics. If using a mobile phone while driving impairs your ability to drive safely, just hang up.