Max Dorfman, Research Writer, Triple-I
State bans on cell phone use while driving correlate with reduced crash rates, according to recent research from the Insurance Institute for High Safety (IIHS). However, the overall results were mixed among the states studied, with different legal language, levels of enforcement, and severity of penalties, providing possible explanations for the different results.
The study observed changes in crash rates in California, Oregon and Washington after legislation to prevent cell phone talking and texting while driving was passed in 2017, with the research looking at overall numbers from 2015 to 2019. These numbers were compared to the control states of Idaho and Colorado.
In particular, the study found:
- A 7.6 percent reduction in the rate of monthly rear-end crashes of all severity relative to rates in the control states;
- Legislative changes in Oregon and Washington were associated with significant reductions of 8.8 percent and 10.9 percent, respectively;
- California experienced no changes in rear-end crash rates of any severity or with injuries associated with the strengthened law.
Still, state governments face several obstacles in their efforts to prevent crashes caused by cell phone use.
“Technology is moving much faster than the laws,” said Ian Reagan, senior researcher at the IIHS. “Our findings suggest that other states could benefit from enacting broader laws against cell phone use while driving, but more research is needed to determine which combination of wording and penalties is most effective.”
Distracted driving remains a major problem
Distracted driving remains a major problem on roads across the country. In fact, distracted driving increased by more than 30 percent from February 2020 to February 2022, largely due to changes in driving patterns spurred by the coronavirus pandemic, according to research by telematics service provider Cambridge Mobile Telematics.
The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) reported that more than 3,100 people died in distraction-related crashes in 2020, with an estimated 400,000 people injured each year in such crashes. The true numbers, according to the study, are likely higher due to underreporting. The report also found that cell dialing, cell texting and cell browsing were among the most common and risky behaviors.
Telematics can help
Telematics, which uses mobile technology to track driver behavior and provide financial incentives to drive less and more often and more carefully, can help reduce dangerous driving. The more consumers respond positively to the incentive, the less they pay for their insurance.
Research by the Insurance Research Council – as well as Triple-I, a non-profit branch of The Institutes – focused on this very issue, studying public perception and use of telematics. The study found that 45 percent of drivers surveyed said they made significant safety-related changes in the way they drove after participating in a telematics program. Another 35 percent said they made small changes to the way they drive.
During the pandemic, insurance consumers’ comfort with the idea of having their driving monitored in exchange for a better premium seemed to improve. In May 2019, mobility data and analytics company Arity surveyed 875 licensed drivers over the age of 18 to find out how comfortable they would be with their premiums adjusted based on telematics variables. Between 30 and 40 percent said they would be either very or extremely comfortable sharing this data. In May 2020, they ran the survey again with more than 1,000 licensed drivers.
“This time,” Arity said, “about 50 percent of drivers were comfortable having their insurance priced based on the number of miles they drive, where they drive and what time of day they drive, as well as distracted driving and speeding.”