New Data Shows No Decrease In Crashes After Driving While Yakking Laws Were Implemented

from the how's-that-working,-then? dept

We’ve been suspicious of whether or not “driving while yakking” laws actually do any good. There are already laws against reckless driving, and picking out specific driving distractions doesn’t seem likely to change things, since people just switch to other distractions. A study back in 2006 found that driving while yakking laws don’t make the roads any safer, and a brand new study has apparently surprised researchers in showing no impact whatsoever on crash data even as studies show that fewer people are holding phones to their ears while driving (thanks Chirag). Now, there could be plenty of reasons for this — such as that people are just switching to ear pieces which can be just as dangerous. Or it could be that common claims about driving while yakking leading to more accidents are wrong. Or it could be more complex, with other variables having an impact, but which is hidden in the data. Either way, it certainly seems worth investigating more seriously. If the goal is better road safety, then we should make sure that the laws actually lead to that result. If they don’t, then it’s important to understand why not.

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Comments on “New Data Shows No Decrease In Crashes After Driving While Yakking Laws Were Implemented”

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BBT says:

Or it could be that these laws are completely ineffective, just like speeding laws, and everyone still uses their phones while driving. I see at least 3 people on their phones on my morning commute every day. Not a single one of them is worried about getting a fine. I talk to people who are driving often. Here’s how the conversation goes:

“So let’s plan to meet at…

dead air..

“… sorry, there was a cop, I had to put the phone down. So, let’s plan to meet at 8”

Oh man, that law is SOOOO effective.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Why oh why

Why can’t they just come out and say, “Okay, tards that we gave drivers licenses to, here’s the deal. From this day on, driving while distracted includes being on your phone w/o a headset, texting, applying your makeup, eating, or masturbating while driving. If you are caught doing so, one night in Gen Pop for you.”?

Other than legislators needing to pretend like they did something important, I mean…

Scott says:

I'd say…

that the same things could be said of drunk driving laws too.

And you’d be right for the wrong reason.

Drunk driving laws didn’t change how often people drove drunk. The cultural change from believing that driving drunk was OK to believing that it was really not OK (but some still do it) was the effective part and was mostly achieved through public education efforts.

That cultural change wouldn’t have worked had it been legal to drink and drive, though.

Aside: The research on the effects of taking a phone call and driving is pretty conclusive. The experimental designs I’ve seen used are sound and simple, and the conclusions have really high validity scores. What we’re seeing here is the result of a lack of political will: nobody wants to ban cellphone use entirely so hands-free is touted as an OK alternative, despite the research resoundingly showing that there’s no difference between using a handset and using a headset while driving.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I'd say...

And you’d be right for the wrong reason.

I didn’t give a reason.

The cultural change … was mostly achieved through public education efforts.
That cultural change wouldn’t have worked had it been legal to drink and drive, though.

I think the same could be expected to apply to phoning while driving, too.

Comboman says:

Re: I'd say�

That cultural change wouldn’t have worked had it been legal to drink and drive, though.

I don’t think that’s true. Look at smoking, especially smoking around kids. It’s still legal but it is now a cultural taboo, so it happens much less often. Education and other incentives (or disincentives like increased taxation on cigarettes) are far more effective than legislation/prohibition.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Laws and enforcement

The problem has nothing to do with the law. It’s all about enforcement. It does little good to create new laws without the staffing needed to enforce them.

We have the “staffing”, we don’t have the willingness to enforce. Don’t expect cops to be real eager to enforce laws that they, themselves, drive around violating in plain view.

Spanky says:


I think no one pays attention to the law. Seems like every time I look in the rear view mirror, guy behind me is talking on the phone (actually, its rarely a guy. Usually a woman).

I tried it once when I got my first cell phone and never did it again. Seriously, I was handling the car like a drunk driver. I could see how this would be a problem, and am surprised it doesn’t show up in the math.

Marvin T. Martian says:

Re: re

“no one pays attention to the law”
– Maybe we should all snap to attention and salute ?

“Usually a woman”
– Wow, sexism much ? There is data that says you are wrong.

“I tried it once when I got my first cell phone and never did it again.”
– Cellphone, the gateway drug. At this point in your post I began to think you were being sarcastic in a refer madness sort of way.

“show up in the math”
– What ? I don’t understand this

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: re

You’re actually proving something lots of people have been saying for a while: some people can handle driving while talking and some can’t. I’m not trying to be insulting to you or anyone: just that some are better than multitasking mechanical tasks. Laws shouldn’t be made just based on a certain percentage of the public’s abilities. Distracted driving is distracted driving: the cause should not matter. If you drive incorrectly it should be investigated. If you drive correctly, who cares?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: re

You’re actually proving something lots of people have been saying for a while: some people can handle driving while talking and some can’t.

Some can drive drunk, some can’t.

Laws shouldn’t be made just based on a certain percentage of the public’s abilities.

That’s right: if I can drive drunk, why shouldn’t I be allowed to do so?

If you drive correctly, who cares?

Correct again. What should blood-alcohol-level have to do with it?

The Anti-Mike (profile) says:

Part of the problem of these sorts of studies is that the time frame is too short, and they are not able to easily remove other variables from the equation.

It doesn’t take much more than a couple of days of better or worse weather in a given time period to change the numbers dramatically. The methodology used to determine the number of people on the phone is somewhat suspect as well, as it is essentially a “drive by” survey on an entrance ramp. There is no indication that entrance ramps are the area where the most “on the phone” accidents were happening.

One other thing that is missing is that use of a cell phone often won’t get cited or won’t be reported in anything but the most serious of accidents, so it is hard to judge just from police reports how many people were talking on the phone when an accident occurred.

These sorts of things could swing numbers in all sorts of directions. Were cell phone related accidents under reported in the past, and now over reported because of new laws? Are people who put down the phone now more likely to be distracted by the radio, their Ipod, or whatever? Are distracted drivers just distracted drivers?

It’s hard to draw a real conclusion from the data, which makes the title of this post somewhat misleading.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“It’s hard to draw a real conclusion from the data, which makes the title of this post somewhat misleading.”

No there’s nothing at all misleading about the title. The data does indeed show no decrease in crashes.

The only thing that’s misleading is your comment – most of which turns out to be a rather smelly mixture of red herrings and straw men.

Most of the points you make are either undermined by the methodology of the researchers or attempts to refute claims that no one is actually making.

Richard (profile) says:

The result is NOT surprising

Even the “hyper road safety lobby” will tell you that holding the phone is not the point. Rather it is the nature of the conversation. Paradoxically holding the phone may actually be safer than hands free because it is less likely that you will have a long conversation that way. If you have bothered to invest in a hands free kit – and get it all set up for use then you are definitely going to use it for more than just “I’ll be there in 15 minutes” type calls.

The worst aspect of the mobile phone ban is that it has resulted in trigger happy policemen prosecuting people for all kinds of “distractions”. The latest and silliest of these can be found here:

John Proffer (profile) says:

not true

I see TONS of people talking and driving. Like, 3 out of 5 people on the road have a cellphone glued to their ear, especially if they’re driving alone.

The problem is that the law IS NOT enforced in any way by cops, unless they’re (cops) having a bad day or need an excuse to pull someone over for further inspection.

Hell, I even see COPS driving with cellphones glued to their ear.

Those stats are bs. It doesnt work BECAUSE ITS NOT BEING ENFORCED.

Boudica (profile) says:

Cell phones and accidents

I do not believe it is the cell phone, rather it is distractions, such as trying to dial the phone, or texting while driving. Or changing the radio station. Or playing with the heater, changing the CD or fishing in the glove box for something.

But let’s consider – how about conversation itself? What about the parent trying to control the disorderly children in the back seat, or the daughter driving while the mother argues with her. Or the father and son arguing about which football team deserves to win the Superbowl?

It is not the cell phone. It is the conversations, the distractions and changing the law to point a finger at one item is not the issue or the answer.

And to be honest, I do not see a law that can eliminate this, other than driver self discipline.

This conversation was interesting enough to cause me to post. Which means I joined. You folks are onto something, and I believe if you take it to it’s max, you will discover the problems, as someone already pointed out, is not the phones or the radio or the CDs.

It’s the drivers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Cell phones and accidents

It is not the cell phone. It is the conversations, the distractions and changing the law to point a finger at one item is not the issue or the answer.

The reason mobile phones have been targeted is because phone conservations have been shown to be more distracting than conservations with other passengers and thus a more serious problem.

Capt Obvious says:

Re: Cell phones and accidents

“rather it is distractions”

Close, but not the root cause.
The root cause is following too close.

1. People are not perfect and they will become distracted by any number of things, a cell phone is just one of them and I doubt it is the most distracting.
2. Elimination of all distractions is near impossible.

Because of the distraction, whatever it is, the driver reaction time increases significantly. When this coincides with a traffic anomaly, possibly a large deceleration, then there is a very high collision probablility when the driver is tailgating.

The problem is, few people realize this and take appropriate action. They are more concerned with the possiblity of some other driver getting in front of them. I’m sure you see this every day, and most likely have participated in the game. Automobile collisions are not an enjoyable experience and I highly recommend drivers to take their responsibility seriously.

JustaCook says:

Numbers Schmumbers...

I Don’t care what the “numbers” say(as if they can talk) just as many men may talk on the phone, but from what I have seen when driving behind someone that is obviously distracted you pull up, and its some damn soccer mom from the suburbs talking on their damn phone swerving into your lane… usually but not always… and no in general in life I am not sexist… you can state things that are fact without being sexist…

Marvin T. Martian says:

Re: Numbers Schmumbers...

I’m curious as to how you become aware that the driver is on her way to / from kids soccer game / practice.

Is it the bumper sticker
Maybe the adolescent occupants are all in uniform

In addition, am I to suppose that in your experience the men you have witnessed driving while yakking are better at multitasking ?

What more anecdotal evidence can you provide in support of your sexism ?

bigpicture says:


This may seem harsh, but there is the “survival of the fittest thing”. If they are not intelligent enough to understand the risks to life of driving while distracted then nature says they should not reproduce in kind.

In the business world it is called “risk assessment” which basically says “do you want to take the risk if there is no possible offsetting reward”? The reward can be anything from financial gain, to work efficiencies, to going home to your family alive and uninjured. The risk can be anything from financial loss, to injury, to death. Even wild animals have an innate understanding of this, the reward of eating against the risk of disabling injury or death. Guess which one takes precedent most often?

So nature takes care of this. What nature does not seem to take care of is that these distracted bozos are usually holding up traffic flow and pissing off the drivers who are paying attention.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re:

There are two reasons the laws have not reduced the accident rate:

1: lack of compliance with the law
2: lack of enforcement of the law

No there is just one reason.

3: Blaming drivers and making laws is the wrong approach altogether.

This is because human nature guarantees that 1 will never happen and lack of resources rues out 2.

The way forward is technical measures combined with driver education to pesuade people to use them.

Things that have worked to reduce deaths and accidents:

1 Better car design.
(Safety cells, better handling and braking, ABS, pedestrian friendly front ends, seat belts, airbags)

2 Better road design (crash barriers, runoff areas, removing blindspots, removing solid obstacles from strategic points, refuges at junctions)

Things that will work in future if we can get over the pointless blame game.

Automated emergency braking esp. for heavy vehicles.

Look ahead road and traffic hazard warning information made available to drivers. Possibly with automated collision avoidance built in.

Traffic calming robots.

Radjin says:


It’s not the dialing of a number, or the basic talking on the phone, it’s the fools using the phone while driving who do not have the mental ability to choose driving as the priority. They get into a discussion with someone and forget they are supposed to be driving. It’s simple; just drop all the cell phone laws, and make one new one, if you are the cause of an accident and you are on the phone or texting at that time, you get a nice $5000.00 fine. You do it twice; you lose your phone for life.

Michael says:

Heres why...

No one actually follows the laws… I have been involved in dozens of near misses from morons talking or texting while driving, and since we had our ban starting last month, the number of idiots not paying attention while driving has not really changed at all. By the way, there has been a law on the books for decades that would allow you to be ticketed for talking on your phone while driving, its called “due care and attention” while driving. I am always tempted to jam the brakes when I have someone behind me texting on there phone, just to wake them up a bit.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Heres why...

I tend to come to a complete stop at red lights (you know, in compliance with the law, safety and common sense) before taking a right turn. I have lost count of the people who seem surprised that someone would actually STOP for a red light. Of course, they are (1) following too close, (2)sometimes distracted by a child, a fellow passenger or a cell phone and (3) may be assuming that just because they are morons and do not actually stop for a red light that others behave the same way.

Anonymous Coward says:

I would much rather have the law altered such that the person talking on their cell phone is automatically responsible for any accidents, the way rear-ending someone is in Missouri.

That model doesn’t work for texting, however. You can check cell tower logs to see if someone was talking when the accident happened, but if you are texting while driving, then have an accident before you hit SEND, there’s no way to tell.

People will actually WALK INTO me while talking and walking. I can’t imagine that driving is any better.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

However, about 13,000 people are killed in drinking related accidents each year. Only about 1,000 people are killed in drinking related walking accidents each year. The 8x more likely logic is based on miles walked versus miles driven.

Bottom line: Driving or walking while impaired increases your risk of death.

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