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California cellphone rules don't appear to be reducing car accidents, study finds

January 29, 2010 | 12:55 pm


Think your commute is safer now that California requires drivers to use hands-free cellphones?

Think again.

A new study from the nonprofit Highway Loss Data Institute found that rates of crashes before and after the landmark law took effect in 2008 have not significantly changed. It also found that the trend of California’s crashes before and after the law followed that of neighboring states -- like Arizona and Nevada -- that do not have bans on hand-held phones.

“The laws aren’t reducing crashes, even though we know that such laws have reduced hand-held phone use, and several studies have established that phoning while driving increases crash risk,” Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and its affiliate, the data institute, said in a statement.

“If crash risk increases with phone use and fewer drivers use phones where it’s illegal to do so, we would expect to see a decrease in crashes. But we aren’t seeing it. ... We’re currently gathering data to figure out this mismatch,” Lund said. 

The group, which receives claims information from more than 80% of the nation’s insurers, looked at data on crashes involving cars that are brand-new to 3 years old, and concluded that there is no evidence the hands-free rule is reducing crashes.

About 1.7 million claims in all were used for the study, according to officials with the group. In California there were slightly more than eight crashes per 100 vehicles 18 months before the ban on hand-held phones went into effect.

Twelve months after the law, there were about 7.5 crashes per 100 vehicles, the study shows. Authors of the study were quick to point out that the slight decline in crashes follows a similar trend in neighboring states where there is no such ban.

In Arizona, Nevada and Oregon (which recently passed its own ban), there were a little over seven crashes per 100 vehicles 18 months before the ban was passed in California. Twelve months after the ban in California, there were a little over five crashes per 100 vehicles in those three states, the study shows.

-- Ari B. Bloomekatz

Credit for 2007 photo: Los Angeles Times