By now, we all are aware of the dangers of texting or using other electronic devices while you are behind the wheel. In 2010, more than 1.2 million accidents involved drivers who were talking on their phones or texting. In response, many states have enacted laws banning the use of cell phones by drivers. Last month, Ohio became the 39th state to ban texting while driving.
However, a recent study shows that banning the use of cell phones while driving may not necessarily have the expected effect. That’s because researchers found that people who use cell phones while driving are more likely to be high-risk drivers, even when you remove cell phones from the equation.
The study, conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s New England University Transportation Center, looked at the behavior of 108 Greater Boston drivers. About half of the drivers admitted frequent phone use when driving and the rest said they rarely used their phones behind the wheel.
For each person, the researchers compared answers on a questionnaire with data collected from on-board sensors during a 40-minute test drive.
The frequent callers tended to:
– Drive faster
– Change lanes more often
– Spend more time in the far-left lane
– Accelerate rapidly
– Slam on their brakes
The results suggest that the driver’s personality may be the real risk. “They are subtle clues indicative of more aggressive driving,” said study leader Bryan Reimer, a human factors engineer at MIT.
“Legislating the technology alone is not going to solve the problem,” Reimer said. “We need to look more at the behavior of the individual.”
This may explain why cell phone bans have not resulted in lower accident numbers. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, two separate studies found no reduction in crashes due to hand-held cell phone or texting bans, based on insurance claim rates in states with and without the laws.
Whether or not the bans are showing a definitive reduction in crashes, legislators need to continue looking at ways to adapt laws to keep up with technology and keep all drivers safe on the roads. As Massachusetts Sen. Mark Motigny said, “You can’t really legislate against irresponsibility or stupidity, but you can at least take away one of the distractions.”
As always, the ultimate responsibility lies with each individual driver. Slowing down and driving defensively are always the best ways to reduce accidents and save lives.