Car accident-related emergency room visits declined in states that have banned texting while driving. According to a recent analysis published in the American Journal of Public Health, states with bans on texting while driving saw a 4% decline in ER visits after motor vehicle accidents. That’s 1,632 fewer traffic-related ER visits per year.
Researchers analyzed the data from emergency rooms in 16 states between 2007 and 2014. The states chosen were picked based on the availability of their car accident injury data.
According to the National Safety Council, about 40,100 people were killed in auto accidents in 2017. And approximately 3 million people are injured in car accidents every year. And while 18% of car-accident related deaths are caused by DUI, up to 390,000 people are injured per year because of texting while driving. However, only 47 out of the 50 states currently have laws restricting texting while driving.
All but one of the 16 states looked at in the study had at least one law restriction texting while driving. Texting-while-driving bans are either primary laws or secondary laws.
Primary laws mean the driver can be pulled over whether or not another violation occurred. Secondary laws mean the driver is sanctioned for texting only after another violation has taken place.
The 15 states with texting bans saw a 4% average decline in ER visits regardless of the type of texting-while-driving bans put in place. But states that have primary bans on texting while driving saw an 8% average decline in ER visits.
“The law can be a very useful public health intervention,” said Alva Ferdinand, the lead author of the study. “There are lives that can be saved and injuries prevented as a result of these laws.”
According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly 3,500 people died and 391,000 people were injured in a car accident related to distracted driving in 2016. That includes texting while driving, which makes up 78% of distracted driving cases.
Other common accident causes include reckless driving, speeding, weather, and design defects. Up to 77% of vehicles on the road today need some type of maintenance or repair.
Previous studies analyzing texting while driving and emergency room data have focused only on car accident-related deaths. Researchers said that injuries were also an important factor to study because they’re a much more likely outcome compared to car accident deaths.
However, Ferdinand explained that the study has its limitations. Although researchers analyzed emergency room data in states with bans on texting while driving, they didn’t measure how well the laws were implemented in the different states. The study also didn’t include data from all 50 states.
Despite these limitations, Ferdinand says she’s confident that the same trends are true across the country.
The Alabama House Public Safety Committee and Homeland Security Committee recently approved a bill that would make it not only illegal to text while driving but also illegal to hold a phone while driving.
The bill was approved by Rep. Allen Farley after testimony was made from Michelle Lunsford, a woman whose daughter was killed in a distracted driving accident in 2018 on Interstate 65. The committee approval of the bill puts the legislation in line for consideration by the full House.
Under the new bill, drivers would pay a $50 fine for using their phone while driving. Drivers would pay a $100 fine for their second violation and $150 for their third. However, the bill would have some exceptions such as using the phone as a navigational device.
“Our current law is weak and unenforceable,” said Lunsford. “Police and law enforcement have told me that it is nearly impossible to enforce.”