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Distracted-driving deaths decline in California since ban

Consumer Reports News: March 08, 2012 11:53 AM

Texting and handheld cell phone bans have been popping up around the country at a rapid pace. A new study from California shows that its state laws, coupled with strong enforcement, does make a difference in saving lives.

The California Office of Traffic Safety announcement (based on analysis by the University of California, Berkeley) found that deaths related to handheld cell phone use dropped considerably since the state’s ban was enacted in July, 2008. Looking at crash records two years before the ban and two years after, overall traffic deaths dropped by 22 percent and handheld cell phone driver deaths declined 47 percent. These results are compelling in light of the proliferation of feature-rich smart phones that may encourage distracted driving. These findings point to a direct correlation between the law, enforcement, and lives saved.

Information from the California Department of Motor Vehicles shows that convictions from using a handheld cell phone increased by 22 percent in 2011 from the year before and 52 percent from 2009. The cost of a California ticket for this infraction starts at $159 and can reach $279 for additional offenses.

This research suggests that high-visibility enforcement and education work to get the message out about the dangers of distracted driving. The state also has a public awareness campaign to educate drivers of these dangers. This method has worked before with the year-long, government-funded distracted driving campaign “Phone in One Hand, Ticket in the Other” in Syracuse, N.Y., and Hartford, Conn., in 2010. The results from their enforcement program showed handheld cell phone use while driving dropped 32 percent in Syracuse and 57 percent in Hartford. Texting while driving declined 32 percent in Syracuse and 72 percent in Hartford.

The goal now is to push for stronger enforcement in other states with laws, so that we can reduce the over 3,000 distracted driving deaths each year.

To learn more about this topic, visit our special section on distracted driving.

Liza Barth

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