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Distracted driving is finally getting the attention it deserves after becoming one of the leading causes of auto fatalities around the nation. Many states are passing or drafting laws intended to strengthen the punishments for texting while driving, and even major auto insurers are finding ways of motivating their policyholders to put down their phones in the car by raising premiums on distracted drivers. While most of the conversation surrounding distracted driving focuses on texting and other phone usage which requires drivers’ hands and eyes to be on their phones, a new nationwide survey suggests that banning in-car phone conversations could actually save more lives. Have we been focusing on the wrong causes of distracted driving?
The study was conducted by the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Researchers examined nationwide data gathered from a survey given to teen drivers about their phone habits while driving. The survey found that teens living in states which have laws banning handheld phone conversations while driving are 55% less likely to make or receive calls in the driver’s seat, while laws banning texting do little to curb texting while driving. Numerous studies have found that engaging in phone conversations while driving is just as dangerous as texting while driving.
Dr. Motao Zhu, Principal Investigator in the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, says that while texting-while-driving bans are well intentioned, they are far less effective than laws which ban drivers from engaging in phone conversations:
Our study shows that universal bans of handheld cellphone calls while driving can be effective in reducing teens’ hand-held conversations while driving, but texting bans are not effective in reducing texting while driving. Nearly all states ban texting while driving, however, these bans are not effective. More states should implement hand-held cellphone bans, which have been proven to discourage hand-held cellphone conversations while driving.
The study will surely be used by policymakers looking to find ways to discourage drivers from using their phones while in the driver’s seat. Sure, autonomous vehicles will soon make all of this obsolete, but in the meantime, please: just put your stupid phone down. It can wait, I promise.