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Are Heightened Punishments For Distracted and Impaired Driving Actually Helping To Lower Incidents?

Distracted driving is a big problem facing motorists today. Most states have banned texting and driving, and many more have recently increased punishment for those offenses. 14 states have outright bans on using hand-held cell phones while in the car, and 38 states ban cell phone use for novice drivers. These laws have been increasing over the years, as horror stories have emerged from accidents nationwide. Distracted driving is hailed as being the new drunk driving for the 21st century.

Increased punishment is usually seen as the answer. In Maryland, for example, a law nicknamed “Jake’s law” was passed in 2014, increasing penalties for distracted driving. The law is named after Jake Owen, a five-year-old boy who died as a result of a crash caused by a driver who was talking on his phone.

Hand-held Bans Not Helping

While distracted driving has always been a problem since the first time a person did not drive alone, the increase in cell phone usage behind the wheel has prompted laws to attempt to curb the distraction that they cause drivers. According to the IIHS, a study in Canada and Western Australia found a huge increase in the risk of crashes causing injuries with cell phone usage. However, the IIHS also found that banning hand-held devices did not actually decrease the number of crashes. Connecticut banned all hand-held cell phone use while driving in October of 2005. Comparing the frequency of collision claim data from Connecticut with New York and Massachusetts as a control group found no significant difference. There was no corresponding decrease in claims up to 15 months after the ban was enacted.

Are Heightened Punishments For Distracted and Impaired Driving Actually Helping To Lower Incidents?

Jury Still Out on Increased Drunk Driving Penalties

Increasing the penalties for drinking and driving, as well as lowering the legal limit to 0.08% from 0.10%, were supposed to reduce the number of drunk driving accidents. While some efforts have been successful, it has been show that increased penalties such as increased jail time or increased fines have not been effective at reducing drinking and driving. In fact, the number of alcohol-related crashes actually increased after the legal limit was reduced. If you have been charged with a DUI and are staring at these heavy penalties, enlisting a Los Angeles DUI attorney or one from your area can help you plea your case in court.

Texting Bans Also Come up Short

How about the bans on texting while driving? Surely those bans have had a positive impact on the safety of people on the road. Well, perhaps those laws have not had the effect that lawmakers and the public will have wanted. Again, the IIHS documents that there have been studies done using crash data that have found that laws banning texting have not stopped people from texting and driving. In fact, in three of the four states, crashes as a result of drivers texting actually increased after the ban. Again, comparing the crash data with neighboring states as control groups found no significant difference. It also found that the amount of texting behind the wheel did not decrease as a result of these laws.

So will these laws actually end up doing anything? It remains to be seen if these increased punishments will actually result in the laws being followed, just as the increased punishments for drinking and driving have not seemed to help. With all of the attention that distracted driving gets from lawmakers and in the media, cell phone usage only accounted for 12% of the fatal distraction-affected crashes in the US in 2012, resulting in a total of 378 deaths. By comparison, crashes from the running of red lights caused 683 deaths in 2012. Perhaps this is merely a hot-button issue, tailor-made for politicians rather than good policy.

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