Researchers Find Variation in States’ Distracted Driving Legislation

Distracted driving is the attributed cause of hundreds of thousands of crashes annually and has prompted states to create new highway safety laws. Even so, experts say distracted driving research and the legislation intended to combat the problem may not align.

Temple University researchers examined the distracted driving state laws passed between Jan. 1, 1992 and Nov. 1, 2010, and described a “widening gap” between the evidence on distracted driving and the laws being passed to address it. They discovered that laws, penalties and enforcement varied from state to state, ranging from the type of mobile device; drivers’ age or permit type; and where and how people use their mobile devices while driving.

As of November 2010, 39 states and Washington, D.C., had one or more laws restricting use of mobile devices while driving; 11 states had no laws; and no state outlawed the use of cell phones completely.

According to lead author Jennifer Ibrahim, an assistant professor of public health in Temple’s College of Health Professions and Social Work, and her coauthors, no systematic review currently is in place to evaluate distracted driving laws or provide evidence on their effectiveness. The variation these researchers discovered, however, enabled them to compare legislation among states for future research on what provisions within a given law make it particularly effective.

“We know that distracted driving is dangerous, yet despite the diffusion of distracted driving laws, there is evidence that driver use of mobile devices is increasing,” said Ibrahim. “Our study is the first step toward understanding which laws really do reduce distracted driving, and thus can reduce related crashes and associated injuries and fatalities.”

This study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

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