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Laws banning drivers' use of cell phones are saving motorcyclists' lives

Researchers suggest that states with stricter laws have lower fatality rates

Photo (c) escapejaja - Fotolia
Though cell phones have come to permeate essentially every area of our lives, the use of these devices while driving has become particularly problematic. Amidst several campaigns urging consumers not to text or call while driving, the issue continues to lead to fatal car accidents.

However, a new study conducted by researchers from Florida Atlantic University found that motorcyclist fatalities have been on the decline in states that have instituted strict bans on using cell phones while driving.

“In the case of motorcycles, these laws seem to be effective,” said Dr. Gulcin Gumus. “While it’s not clear that these laws have had an impact on reducing the overall number of traffic fatalities, when we focus specifically on motorcycles, we find that these laws are having a major impact in reducing deaths among motorcycle riders.”

Improved safety on the roads

To see how effective these laws have been, the researchers analyzed data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System for a 10-year period between 2005 and 2015. They looked at total fatalities, in addition to specifically motorcycle-related deaths across the entire country.

Because laws are not the same in all 50 states, the researchers broke down the statistics even further to see the differences in states that have banned cell phone use and states that have not. When the team compared the number of fatal crashes in states with cell phone bans with states without bans, the rate of fatalities differed by as much as 11 percent.

The researchers note that motorcyclists are found to be more distracted while driving, which could be why they are most positively impacted by these new laws.

“Every day about nine Americans are killed and more than 1,000 are injured in traffic crashes that involve distracted drivers,” said researcher Michael T. French. “While our initial goal was to understand whether these laws save lives on the road, the broader application of our findings is even more powerful.”

Moving forward, the researchers are hopeful that these findings inspire more lawmakers to consider stricter cell phone laws for drivers, as based on this study, it can only help to save lives.

“We have a better appreciation for the range of policies across states and years, and what makes texting/handling bans strong and effective, especially for motorcyclists,” French said. “Hopefully these results will facilitate a more informed discussion between legislators, law enforcement officers, and the general public about distracted driving and traffic safety.”

Epidemic of distracted driving

Though the risks of texting and driving have been well-documented, many people are still tempted to whip out their phones while behind the wheel. In a recent study conducted by the Center for Injury Research and Policy Nationwide Children’s Hospital, nearly 40 percent of teen drivers were found to text while driving.

Texting and driving was more prevalent among teens in states with lower minimum driving age requirements, and it was also more common among white teens, as opposed to African American or Hispanic teens. However, the practice was less likely to occur if teens were in the car with an adult.

Similarly, drivers that have their cars equipped with technology that is designed to reduce distracted driving has been found to do the opposite.

Esurance conducted a survey at the beginning of this year and found that the majority of adults are aware that using a phone or GPS can be distracting while they drive, but many still choose to do so anyway. Nearly 60 percent of drivers admitted to driving while either texting, using navigation, or talking on the phone.

“We’re seeing more automakers try to address the issue of distracted driving through semi-autonomous features, but we’re also mindful of the fact that some of these features could distract drivers even more and often give drivers a false sense of security,” said Esurance Director of the Connected Car Department Stephanie Braun.

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