The Law’s Losing the Texting-While-Driving Fight

The many laws enacted by states to ban textingwhile driving appear to be for naught, suggest findings from anew study by the Highway Loss Data Institute.It found no reductions in crashes after theselaws took effect. In fact, the bans were associated with a slightincrease in the frequency of auto insurance claims: Crash reports were upin three of the four states studied for the project after the bans wereinstituted.

HLDI compared claims in California, Louisiana, Minnesota andWashington — all of which adopted laws banning texting while drivingin 2008 and 2009. It then compared those findings with patterns ofclaims in nearby states that didn’t pass comparable legislation in order to controlfor possible changes in collision claim rates unrelated to the bans,such as the economy or seasonal changes.

The District of Columbia was the first jurisdiction to ban motoristsfrom texting in 2004. Since then, 30 states have implemented similar bans, nearly half in 2010.

Following a Pattern

The study’s findings, which were released at the annual meeting of theGovernors Highway Safety Association, echo those of a previous HLDIstudy that found bans on the use of cellphones while driving did not translate into improved safety statistics.

HLDI was shocked by the results of that first study, spokesperson AnneFleming told TechNewsWorld, but “this time, when we reached similarconclusions about texting bans, we were not that surprised.”

Clearly, the new laws are not working. One puzzle is why three of thefour states showed an increase in crashes after they were enacted. Apossible answer might be that after the laws were put in place, driversbegan holding their phones lower to keep them out of sight of police officers, thusincreasing the time their eyes were off the road and exacerbating the risk.

Using a driving simulator, researchers at the University of Glasgow found a sharp increase in crash likelihood when participants texted from a device hidden from view on their lap or a vehicle seat.

Not Ready to Discard Laws

Despite the findings, the institute and other highway safety advocatesare not ready to abandon a legislative solution to the issue ofdistracted driving.

“We would like to look at the laws some more and find out if they canbe better enforced,” Fleming said. “If drivers believe they will get ahefty ticket, it may make a difference.”

However, a legal remedy might not beenough, she acknowledged.

“We are looking at other ways that might reduce hazardousdriving, such as the technologies that are being developed to helpdrivers avoid crashes, because the laws do not appear to be reducingcrashes,” Fleming said.

Two Technological Approaches

There are many companies exploring ways to solving this problem through technology. While there are many variations, two main themes have emerged: Either the technology disables cellphones while a car is in motion, or it guides the driver, in real-time, to adoptbetter driving habits.

Many of these products are tailored for the commercial space — that is,for use by companies with field representatives on the road. However, in some cases the technology can be adopted for private use, by, say, a parent of a teenager.

Inthinc Technology Solutions uses a mix oftelematics and fleet management software in its real-time driverbehavior monitoring and mentoring product, CEO Todd Follmer told TechNewsWorld.

It goes beyond addressing distracted driving, in that it alerts drivers when they exceed posted speed limits or make unsafe maneuvers.

“It knows whether you have seatbelt on and can measure changes invelocity in any direction,” Follmer said.

If the driver slows down or buckles up, “then it’s no harm, no foul,” he explained. If the driver doesn’t respond appropriately, however, “then a notification is sent wirelessly to our servers and the owner of the vehicle — whether it is a company or parent — is notified.”

Cellphones can be limited to safe mode when the car is in motion.

Company-Owned Property

The trick to these applications, though, is that drivers must submit tohaving their cellphones managed by the system.

Cellcontrol’s obdEdge commercial application integrates a vehicle with whatever mobile devicesa company may hand out through an onboard diagnostic dashboard, CEO Chuck Cox told TechNewsWorld.

It is true that a driver could have a personal cellphone in the vehiclethat wouldn’t be incorporated into the system, he acknowledged, “but a lot ofcompanies reimburse employees for the use of their private phone inbusiness, and that gives them the right to have this software installedon it.”

None of the solutions in the market address all the possiblecontingencies, Cox acknowledged, but some are better than others.

The GSP solutions on the market are particularlyfaulty, he said, citing signal latency and urban canyons that createblind spots.

The bottom line is that anyone who is determined to text orphone while driving will find a way to do it.

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