What Will It Take to Curb Cell Phone Use While Driving?

Kate Klein, MA, MPH

Want to hear something scary? In 2011 at least one quarter of all car crashes involved cell phones [1]….one quarter! Furthermore, 78% of teens and young adults say they have read an SMS message while driving [2]. These are scary statistics for everyone. A momentary lapse of attention on the part of a driver will impact everyone around them with devastating results.

These effects can be seen portrayed dramatically in ads to raise awareness about cell phone use and driving. The Texting and Driving Prevention campaign by the Ad Council, the office of the State Attorneys General and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has produced a series of chilling videos, one showing a group of laughing teens in a car – the driver texting – while they come upon a mother and child crossing the street [3].  It’s a video one could barely watch without cringing.  Many other entities, both government and civil society, are also producing advertisements aimed at scaring drivings into putting down the cell phones.

In addition to these behavior change campaigns, most states have passed laws to ban cell phone use while driving.  Thirty-seven states and DC ban all cell phone use by teen or novice drivers, and eighteen states and DC ban any cell phone use for school bus drivers [4]. Penalties for cell phone use range from $20 in California to $10,000 in Alaska [5]. In 2012, the the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration passed a law banning anyone with a Commercial Drivers License from using cell phones will driving. Commercial truck and bus companies that allow their drivers to use hand-held cell phones face a maximum penalty of $11,000 [6].

This Map Shows State Laws Against Cell Phone Use While Driving (credit: LifeHacker)

This Map Shows State Laws Against Cell Phone Use While Driving (credit: LifeHacker)

So the question is, do these laws and ad campaigns do the trick? Are people using their cell phones less?  One study, conducted by the Highway Loss Data Institute, an insurance industry group, looked at accident rates before and after cell phone bans took effect in New York, the District of Columbia, Connecticut and California. Overall, the results were discouraging. Accident claims did not change after the cell phone bans took effect compared with states that do not have a cell phone ban [7].

As for advertisements, as part of its anti-texting & driving campaign, AT&T conducted a survey and found that 97% of teenagers know texting while driving is dangerous, however it also revealed that 89% of teenagers felt pressured to respond to a text message within one minute.

So if laws aren’t working, and advertisements aren’t working, what can be done? One place to start is with Sarah Jane Quillin’s article in the recently released Northwestern Public Health Reivew. Her article “Keep your Eyes on the Road Ahead: Avenues to Curb Texting & Driving in the US” presents a fascinating look at this health issue and ways we can try to tackle the problem. Find her article, and others, in the new issue at http://www.publichealth.northwestern.edu/nphr/.


[1] http://www.textinganddrivingsafety.com/texting-and-driving-stats/

[2] http://www.stoptextsstopwrecks.org/#facts

[3] http://www.stoptextsstopwrecks.org/#videos

[4] http://lifehacker.com/this-map-shows-state-laws-against-cell-phone-use-while-1469665547

[5] http://lifehacker.com/this-map-shows-state-by-state-penalties-for-texting-whi-1453133028

[6] http://www.drivingambitioninc.com/blog/bid/73562/Final-Rule-Bans-Cell-Phone-Use-for-CDL-Truck-Drivers

[7] http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=123084040

[8] http://www.att.com/Common/about_us/txting_driving/att_teen_survey_executive.pdf

Cover Photo by SplitShire via Pexels: Creative Commons

About NPHR Blog (272 Articles)
The is the blog of the Northwestern Public Health Review journal. The blog and journal are both student run and contain research articles, opinions, interviews and other content pertaining to public health.

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