Lost in the clamor for stricter distracted-driving laws, a study from April 2013 found discouraging patterns in the relationship between texting bans and traffic fatalities.
As one might expect, single occupant vehicle crashes dip noticeably when a state legislature enacts a texting and driving ban. But the change is always short-lived, according to this study, which examined data from every state except Alaska from 2007 through 2010. Within months, the accident rate typically returned to pre-ban levels.
The researchers, Rahi Abouk and Scott Adams of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, attribute this pattern to the "announcement effect," when drivers adjust their behavior to compensate for a perceived law enforcement threat—only to return to old habits when enforcement appears ineffectual. In other words, drivers might dial back their texting when they hear about a ban, but after they succumb to the urge once or twice and get away with it, they determine it's okay and keep doing it.
"It's different than drunk driving," Adams said. Identifying intoxicated drivers is relatively easy, "you can give somebody a breathalyzer, you can have checkpoints." But with texting, "it's really hard [for policemen] to know" if someone's been texting.
No one denies the dangers of texting while driving. In fact, 95 percent of AAA survey (PDF) respondents said texting behind the wheel was a "very" serious threat to their personal safety. But 35 percent of the same...