July 3, 2008
Do Cell-Phone Bans Really Work?
North Carolina instituted a ban on cell phone use for drivers under the age of 18 that began on December 1, 2006. Support for the ban among teenagers was 74 percent. An overwhelming 95 percent of parents in North Carolina supported the restrictions.
So, what kind of impact has the North Carolina ban had in the past 19 months? Would you believe that teenage drivers are using their cellphones even more, begging the question whether cellphone bans really work.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that researchers spent time staking out high school parking lots and conducting telephone surveys with teens and their parents in what is considered the first study of a cellphone ban for young motorists. Researchers watching teen drivers leave school parking lots one to two months prior to the start of the ban observed 11 percent used cellphones. Five months after the ban was in effect, the number of teen drivers observed using cellphones actually increased slightly to 12 percent.
The IIHS says, “Most drivers were using hand-helds. Nine percent were holding phones to their ears, while fewer than one percent were using hands-free devices. About two percent were observed dialing or texting. “
The conclusion of the study is that North Carolina’s cellphone ban is not reducing the use of cellphones by teen drivers. Young motorists are simply ignoring the law believing enforcement is lax and penalties are small. Parents and teen drivers agree that police officers aren’t enforcing the law with 71 percent of teens and 60 percent of parents saying enforcement is rare or nonexistent. When violators are caught, and the North Carolina Highway Patrol wrote only 35 tickets in 2007, the ticket costs $25.
IIHS senior vice president for research Anne McCartt, author of the study about the North Carolina cellphone ban, says such laws are difficult to enforce because it is almost impossible for officers to see teens using hand-held devices or correctly determine a driver’s age.
Concern over the high risk of crashes among teen drivers has prompted legislation to restrict cellphone use. The intent is that young drivers will comply as they do with nighttime restrictions or limits on number of passengers set forth with graduated driver’s licenses or GDL’s. In Wisconsin, for example, the GDL allows novice drivers (ages 15 1/2 to 18) to gain knowledge and experience while under the supervision of an experienced adult as they progress through the learning stages. However, the experience in North Carolina indicates cellphone bans for teen drivers don’t work.
It is almost guaranteed that a bill will be proposed in the next legislative session to ban or limit the use of cell phones in cars. Such a law is unnecessary in Wisconsin. Wisconsin statutes already allow police to cite for inattentive driving, and that would include use of a cell phone. The Wisconsin law is “No person while driving a motor vehicle shall be so engaged or occupied as to interfere with the safe driving of such vehicle.”
States do not completely ban the use of cell phones while driving and with good reason. More substantive information is needed to ensure the creation of sound, reasonable public policy.
If you have comments on this or any other issue, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.senatorlazich.com, Senator Mary Lazich, State Capitol, P.O. Box 7882 Madison, WI 53707 or 1-800-334-1442.