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Maria Shriver isn't the only one having trouble with the cellphone law

October 14, 2009 |  3:26 pm

California First Lady Maria Shriver got caught this week driving while using a hand-held cellphone. But a new study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety suggests that a significant number of people are not adapting well to the bans.

Cellphone In the District of Columbia, the proportion of drivers using hand-held phones dropped nearly half just after the district's 2004 ban took effect. But rates have since crept up a bit (from 6% before the ban to 3% just afterward to about 4% in June), according to an institute study. Hand-held cellphone use while driving also fell after bans took effect in New York and Connecticut but then went back up somewhat. More women tend to break the law than men, and most of the outlaws are between the ages of 25 and 59. People older than 60 rarely use a hand-held phone while driving.

"What's clear from the surveys, despite some variability in their findings, is that bans on hand-held phoning while driving can have big and long-term effects, but the safety implications still aren't clear," Adrian Lund, the institute's president, said in a news release. "Many drivers still use their hand-held phones, even where it's banned, and other drivers simply switch to hands-free phones, which doesn't help because crash risk is about the same, regardless of phone type."

According to research from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute published in 2006, a driver has a threefold increased risk of crashing when dialing a hand-held phone.

Still, the state laws have reduced the number of drivers using hand-held phones, the authors of the new report said. They estimated that the use is 65% lower in Connecticut, 24% lower in New York and 43% lower in D.C. than it would have been without the bans.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Don Barletti / Los Angeles Times

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