California results suggest cell phone driving bans can be effective

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Last updated April 12, 2019

An increasing number of states are imposing restrictions of one form or another on the use of cell phones while driving. Now, a new study emerging from UC Berkeley is demonstrating that the requirement to use a hands-free device while operating a motor vehicle is in fact serving its purpose: saving lives.

The study compared traffic fatality numbers both before and after the ban went into effect. While total traffic fatalities declined by more than 20 percent, a more startling figure was that the number of deaths being blamed on cell phone usage dropped by almost 50 percent. The research was commissioned by a state department seeking to answer the question as to whether California did the right thing when it enacted legal restrictions on cell phone use. The state banned drivers from talking on the phone, except with the hands-free device, in 2008 and followed it the next year with a ban on texting as well.

Janet Dubrasky, who does a great deal of driving as part of her real estate job, however, notes compliance with the law is far from perfect. She routinely sees other drivers using their cell phones in traffic and admits to anger at the sight.

The state is aware that compliance is an issue and plans to conduct additional research studies aimed at finding out how to persuade drivers to do the right thing. Currently, 35 states ban text-messaging while driving and 10 ban voice calls, allowing them only when a hands-free device is used.