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How the ban on texting and driving is affecting safety

Imagine you are driving home after a long day at work. You pull onto the road and are quickly surrounded by other cars, all being driven by people eager to get home. Now imagine letting go of the wheel and closing your eyes for five seconds. In that span of time, traffic could come to a stop ahead of you; you could drift into another lane and sideswipe another vehicle; or you could fail to see someone crossing the road.

This is how accidents happen when people are texting and driving. Distracted drivers are taking their hands off the wheel and their eyes and attention away from the road, putting other motorists nearby in serious danger. That is why, in states including Georgia, laws have been passed to ban texting and driving. But are these laws really helping to keep people safe?

The answer is yes and no. A recent report by the American Journal of Public Health revealed that in states where texting and driving is considered a primary offense, traffic fatalities dropped by about 3 percent. This means that in states where police can pull a driver over specifically texting and driving, the law may be working.

However, in states where texting in driving is a secondary offense, there seems to be little change to accident statistics. This means that a police officer has to have another reason for pulling someone over in order to cite that driver for a texting and driving violation. Not surprisingly, this has made it difficult to enforce the ban and does not appear to have any significant effect on improving safety.

One particularly promising result in this report is that when efforts to stop texting and driving are focused on young drivers, the message is making more of an impact. Fatal accidents dropped 11 percent among drivers aged 15-21 in states where young people are explicitly banned from texting and driving.

While there haven't been any dramatic drops in fatal accidents caused by texting and driving, and these crashes continue to happen in Georgia and in every other state, this report shows us that primary enforcement laws are having a positive effect on overall safety. 

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek, "Bans on Texting While Driving Cut Teen Deaths 11 Percent," Karen Aho, July 30, 2014

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