Lawmakers and law enforcement personnel have been stepping up efforts to curtail distracted driving in recent years, especially since the rise of personal cellular devices. However, some say such legislative crackdowns are nothing new, and may do more harm than good.
Distracted driving studies
A recent Canadian study by the The Winnipeg-based Frontier Centre for Public Policy, released Friday, contends that distracted driving laws are ineffective. Further, the report asserts that they may exacerbate the problem.
A study in the U.S., conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, came to a similar conclusion in 2010. That study concluded that crashes increased between one and 9 percent in four states after cellphone bans were imposed on motorists.
The recent Canadian report likewise found that the number of traffic deaths increased in the province of Manitoba in 2009, following a cellphone ban mid-year. Those numbers have only increased in the intervening years. Before the ban was enacted, traffic deaths had been on the decline for two years.
Concealed use may increase distraction
The U.S. study in 2010 found that the numbers ere even higher for young motorists. It concluded that 45 percent of drivers between the ages of 18 and 24 made no effort to heed the bans. In doing so, they would try to keep their phone hidden below the windshield while driving, necessitating that they take their eyes off the road for longer periods than they would have otherwise.
A press release for the study summarized:
“The danger of distracted driving legislation is that, rather than complying, people tend to find ways to conceal their activities. This can result in more dangerous actions such as texting from below windshield level.”
Steve LaFleur, author of the Canadian study, concluded:
“There is no reason to think that Manitoba’s ban on using cellphones while driving improves driver safety. All available evidence points in the other direction. The province should rescind the ban immediately and examine other ways to improve driver safety.”
Meanwhile, a new piece by Scott Burgess, the Senior Editor at AOL Autos, points out that recent legislative efforts to curb distracted drivers are nothing new.
Burgess reminded readers of the push to ban radios in cars in in 1932. That effort was spearheaded by George A. Parker, the Massachusetts registrar of motor vehicles. Parker is the same man who earlier had suggested drivers be required to get their neighbors to sign off on their moral character before they could be issued a license.
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A survey in 1934 found that 56 percent of American motorists thought that radios led to distracted driving.
Legislative efforts continue
In recent years, 39 states have banned texting behind the wheel. Ten have outlawed the use of hand-held cellular devices while driving. And the push continues. The National Highway Safety Board recently recommended banning all cell phone use from all cars.
Could today’s lawmakers take a lesson from the past and lighten up? Some believe so.