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Are New York’s Distracted Driving Laws Effective?

Distracted driving is a big problem on the nation’s roadways. Most states-including New York-have determined that they can reduce motor vehicle accidents if cell phone use while driving was banned, and have passed laws preventing or limiting cell phone use while driving. But a new study by researchers at the Highway Loss Data Institute reveals that state distracted driving laws are not curbing crash rates.

A recent study at the University of Utah found that distracted drivers exhibit similar behaviors as drivers with a .08 percent blood alcohol concentration, including a delay in reaction time and the inability to maintain a stable distance from the car in front of them. Another study at the same university found that texting while driving is more dangerous than having a phone conversation while driving.

Due to the severity of the problem, New York has passed some of the toughest distracted driving laws in the country. It joins just seven other states in banning all handheld phone use (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington are the others); in New York using a handheld cell phone is a primary offense, meaning a law enforcement officer can pull someone over just for using the phone. Texting while driving is a secondary offense in New York, meaning that an officer can only cite a driver for texting while driving if the driver commits another traffic offense.

But how effective are all these tough laws? A recent study by the Highway Loss Data Institute found that in four of the states with the toughest bans-California, Connecticut, New York and Washington-there was no decrease in crashes caused by distracted driving, even though the bans have decreased phone use.

Clearly there is a disconnect between state laws and crash rates. More study of how to best prevent distracted driving is imperative to creating laws that effectively protect attentive drivers from distracted drivers.