Every year, thousands of people die in distracted driving accidents. In recent years, a patchwork of laws have been passed in states across the country—laws that vary in scope and penalties. But which laws are most effective at keeping people safe?
There are many distractions behind the wheel. But perhaps the most common one is technology. Our phones and navigational systems take our minds, eyes and hands away from their primary purpose when driving. Such distractions can significantly increase your risk of an accident.
How Distracted Driving Laws Vary
Distracted driving laws are relatively new. In the past, if your distraction caused an accident, you could certainly be charged with careless or reckless driving, but there was no specific law barring distraction. Now, things are different.
In some states, texting is the only distracting activity banned behind the wheel. In New York and New Jersey, all hand-held cell phone use is banned. In order to use your phone while driving, you must use hands-free tools.
In some states, distracted driving laws are known as “primary” and as “secondary” laws in other states. These terms refers to how the police are able to enforce the texting or phone bans.
A primary law is one that allows police to pull a driver over when they see the driver using a phone in violation of the law. A secondary law, however, requires the officer to witness another traffic violation before making the stop.
In other words, if you are distracted but otherwise driving safely, the police cannot stop you in states with secondary distracted driving laws.
In New York and New Jersey, the distracted driving laws are primary enforcement laws.
What Distracted Driving Laws Work Best?
A new study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health sought to determine which distracted driving laws are the most effective at saving lives.
According to a press release from the university, lead researcher Alva O. Ferdinand examined in-state changes in highway fatalities after texting-while-driving bans were enacted.
The study examined the period between 2000 and 2010.
The study concluded that states with primary enforcement bans have seen the greatest increase in highway safety. In fact, primary texting bans were associated with a three percent reduction in accident fatalities among all age groups. In states with such bans, that equates to about 19 saved lives each year.
While one would think secondary laws would have some effects, the study did not find that to be the case. On the contrary, states with secondary enforcement laws saw no significant reductions in traffic accident deaths, according to researchers.
This study should be analyzed by lawmakers in states with secondary laws. It may prompt those states to change their laws to ones that allow for primary enforcement.
For people in New Jersey and New York, distracted driving laws may seem like an inconvenience. However, as this study shows, these laws clearly are working to keep us safer.