Wednesday, September 29, 2010

DOT Chief Blasts Report That Calls Texting Bans Pointless

An insurance industry report contends that state bans on drivers texting are pointless, but that view has been challenged by DOT Secretary Ray LaHood. A previous report from the Highway Loss Data Institute found cell-phone use dangerous. HLDI chief Adrian Lund called for a new approach. An AAA spokesman said enforcing texting bans is more difficult.

The U.S. secretary of transportation is blasting an insurance industry report that says state bans on texting while driving are pointless, calling the report's assertion that drivers will find other distractions "ridiculous." The report by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) was released Tuesday.

Another report by its parent, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, looked at accident reports in some of the 30 states (in addition to the District of Columbia and the territory of Guam) that ban texting behind the wheel. It found no reductions in crashes after the laws took effect.

Off Course

But Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, in his official blog, the Fast Lane, responded that the report proves nothing.

"There are numerous flaws with this 'study,' but the most obvious is that they have created a cause and effect that simply doesn't exist," he wrote. He noted previous data Relevant Products/Services from the same group that found people who use handheld devices while driving are four times more likely to injure themselves.

Laws against texting while driving were enacted in California in January 2009; in Louisiana in July 2008; in Minnesota in August 2008, and in Washington state in January 2008. In conducting the study, the HLDI calculated the rate of collision claims for vehicles up to nine years old during the months immediately before and after the laws passed. It then collected comparable data in nearby states without bans. The data was adjusted to control for possible changes in claim rates unrelated to the bans, such as longer commutes and seasonal travel.

"Texting bans haven't reduced crashes at all," said Adrian Lund, president of both HLDI and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. "In a perverse twist, crashes increased in three of the four states we studied after bans were enacted. It's an indication that texting bans might even increase the risk of texting for drivers who continue to do so despite the laws."

Since a previous study by Lund's group suggested that cell-phone bans don't decrease the number of crashes, he said policy-makers need a new approach to the problem of distracted drivers.

Matter of Penetration

A New York spokesperson for the American Automobile Association, Robert Sinclair, said the insurance institute's findings were "ludicrous." He added that the data may not have shown a reduction in crashes because the number of people who text on a daily basis increases each year.

"It may just be a matter of penetration," said Sinclair. "We did a study on distracted driving back in 2003, and texting wasn't even an issue then. But it's ludicrous to expect to see instant results from laws. Should we say that laws against handheld cell phones or mandating child safety seats and against drunk driving are useless because people still get hurt?"

He added that texting bans, as opposed to laws against using a handheld cell phone while driving, which are in force in eight states, are more difficult to enforce because the activity is less visible to police.

"You're talking about a device that is on your lap rather than pressed up against the side of your head," Sinclair said.

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