While many states have incorporated bans on texting while driving, a new study suggests states with laws allowing police officers to pull someone over for distracted driving infractions see fewer fatalities.
In findings published this month in the journal Pediatrics, researchers suggest that strict enforcement of anti-texting and distracted driving laws reduced teen fatalities in motor vehicle accidents by nearly 30%, when compared to those who treat these offenses as a secondary offense.
Despite all states having bans on texting while driving, car accidents continue to be the leading cause of death among youth 16 to 24 years old in the United States, which past research has found to be attributed to the frequency of engaging in risky driving habits such as texting or being distracted.
Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital sought to determine whether states that treat texting and distracted driving as a primarily offense, meaning you can be pulled over and cited for the act of texting, using a handheld device, or engaging in distracted driving, have seen fewer fatalities than those states who treat these actions as secondary violations, meaning you must have committed another traffic violation first to be pulled over and cited for the distracted driving behavior.
Researchers reviewed 38,215 records involving drivers between the age of 16 and 19 years old who were in a fatal motor vehicle crash between 2007 and 2017 to determine whether primarily enforced distracted driving laws were associated with a lower incidence of fatal crashes.
According to data pulled from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administrations (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), the overall teenage car crash death rate amounted to about 20 for every 100,000 drivers. However, states with primary statewide texting bans were linked to a 29% drop in teenager car crash death rates, while secondary texting bans were associated with only a 20% drop, according to the findings.
Overall, researchers saw an annual decrease in the number of teenager involved motor vehicle fatalities, starting at a high of almost 30 per 100,000 in 2007 to 18.7 per 100,000 by 2018.
Researchers concluded that states with primary on all handheld device use and texting bans for all drivers seen the least amount of fatalities per 100,000 drivers. As more states adopted these laws as primary offenses over the course of the study, a greater reduction in the incidence of distracted driving fatalities was found.
“In the United States, primarily enforced distracted driving laws are associated with a lower incidence of fatal MVCs involving 16- to 19-year-old drivers,” the researchers concluded. “Bans on all handheld device use and texting bans for all drivers are associated with the greatest decrease in fatal MVCs. Adoption of universal handheld cellphone bans in all states may reduce the incidence of distracted driving and decrease MVC fatalities.”
In a study published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers indicated parents and guardians can reduce their teens’ accident risks during their first year of driving by encouraging safe driving habits during regular driving practice before they obtain their license.
The study suggests supervised practice and safe driving instruction during the learner period could have a direct impact on the reduction in teenage automobile crashes, indicating the supervision and reinforcement of safe driving habits lowers risky driving behavior among novice drivers.
According to the NHTSA, auto accidents have become the leading cause of death for teens between the age of 15 and 18 years in the United States, ahead of all other types of injury, disease or violence. The NHTSA estimates 99,000 teenagers between the ages of 15 and 18 years are injured every year in car crashes, while nearly 2,000 young drivers are involved in fatal vehicle collisions.
Distracted driving, which includes texting while driving, has become such as widespread epidemic across the United States that the NHTSA launches a National Teen Driver Safety Week campaign annually to encourage parents and guardians to have conversation with their teenage children about the dangers associated with distracted driving. The campaign stresses the importance of distracted driving risk factors such as cell phone use and extra passengers which can consume the attention of a new driver who is already at a statistically higher rate of a crash.