Tech Moves Too Fast For Laws, So Just Put Your Phone Down: IIHS

The IIHS has found that strong anti-cellphone use laws reduce rates of rear-end collisions considerably.

byPeter Holderith|
A distracted driver.

Thinking of sending a quick text while driving? Wait until you're stopped. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has found a strong connection between rates of rear-end collisions and cell phone use, according to a study published Aug. 9. The organization's research specifically examines rates of rear-end collisions in states with strong anti-cellphone use laws. States with stronger laws had large drops in the number of rear-end collisions, which have been associated with cellphone use.

The reduction in crashes is very considerable. Of the three states examined; California, Oregon, and Washington, the latter two states saw reductions of 8.8% and 10.9% respectively between 2017 and now. This is in the context of, "monthly rear-end crashes with injury relative to the rates in the control states," and the control states being Idaho and Colorado. California saw no statistically significant change, with rear-end collisions rising by one percent over the same period. The IIHS suggests this is due to the unclear wording of California's anti-cellphone use law, relatively low fines, and associated lack of effective enforcement.

The study used the three West Coast states as the focus of its research because the trio enacted similar bans on cellphone use starting in 2017. It used Idaho and Colorado as the control because they both have texting bans, but no effective laws against cellphone use while behind the wheel. Those state's laws, which are almost a decade old, aren't keeping up with the pace of technology. The research paper indicates this might be the issue with California's legislation as well. The wording of the state's law makes it unclear whether using a cellphone while stopped is allowed. It also mentions that holding a phone but not using it is legal while driving in the Golden State. "Drivers who are holding a phone but otherwise are not using it are violating the law in Oregon and Washington but are following California’s law," the authors wrote. This makes enforcement more difficult, the paper suggests.

The connection between rear-end collisions and cellphone use is lengthy and well-established. The study notes that "visual-manual cellphone use was associated with a significant increase of 1.8 times the odds of being involved in any crash, but with a much larger increase of 7.8 times the odds of being the striking vehicle in a rear-end crash." With this data in mind, the results from the other two studied states speak for themselves. If a state has strong enforcement for cellphone use and relatively high penalties for texting and driving, the rates of rear-end collisions drop considerably.

In a nutshell, stay off your phone while you're driving. It can almost always wait.

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