How Effective are Texting-While-Driving Bans at Saving Lives?

by | Mar 18, 2016

Advances in technology coupled with people living extremely busy lives has led to an increase in distracted driving. Perhaps one of the most dangerous distractions out there involves texting. In an effort to keep people safe, many areas have enacted texting-while-driving bans that carry significant penalties for anyone caught using a cell phone in such a manner. Have these bans been effective at saving lives? According to several researchers, the answer is “yes.”

How Common is Texting While Driving?

According to a 2011 survey from the Centers for Disease Control, 31 percent of all drivers ages 18 to 64 reported that they had either sent or read a text or email message at least one time in the previous 30 days. During 2011, 3,331 people in the United States were killed in a distracted driving automobile crash, and 387,000 were injured in one. The results of this survey show that texting while driving is a common practice that could have devastating consequences.

American Journal of Public Health Study

A study performed by the American Journal of Public Health was conducted over a period of seven years from 2003 to 2010. Researchers collected data from 19 states to determine if texting bans had an impact on “crash-related hospitalizations.” They then analyzed this data to determine if hospitalization rates increased or decreased after a texting-while-driving ban was implemented. Data from states with a ban was also compared to information from states without a ban to determine if there was a significant difference.

What the researchers discovered was that crash-related hospitalizations decreased by around 7% in states that had enacted a ban. They also claim a significant decrease in hospitalizations occurred in those ages 22 and older, but only a moderate decrease was noted by those 21 and under. As a result of this study, The American Journal of Public Health recommended that all states enact a texting-while-driving ban.

Primary vs. Secondary Bans

Researcher Alva Ferdinand with the Department of Health Care Organization and Policy of the University of Alabama, Birmingham, performed a more in-depth analysis of “in-state” laws, using data gathered from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System from 2000 through 2010. The information obtained from this study was also included in the results that were published in the American Journal of Public Health.

According to Ferdinand, there is considerable variation in texting-while-driving laws, so it is important to know exactly which laws have been most effective. For example, some states ban all drivers from texting, while others restrict only youth.

Laws also vary as to whether they have primary or secondary enforcement. In areas that allow for primary enforcement, officers may stop drivers if they observe them texting. In other locations, officers can pull motorists over only if they observe them breaking another traffic law such as speeding, which amounts to secondary enforcement.

As a result of Ferdinand’s research, primary texting bans were the most effective at reducing traffic fatalities. Primary texting bans accounted for a three percent reduction in deaths, or 19 lives saved per year in each state that had enacted such a ban. When primary texting bans were targeted only at young people, an even higher reduction in fatalities was noticed. Laws targeted toward those age 21 and under resulted in an 11 percent reduction in traffic fatalities among people in that demographic.

Secondary Bans not Effective

Surprisingly, this study showed that there was little to no decrease in fatalities in states where texting-while-driving bans require secondary enforcement. The reason for this was unclear; however, Consumer Affairs surmised that it could be because these laws are rarely enforced.

Nashville, Tennessee news station WSVM reported that the state’s secondary enforcement bans were difficult for officers to implement. A Tennessee Highway Patrol officer agreed, stating that it was difficult to prove whether or not a driver was actually texting. As such, those who visit a Nashville injury lawyer after being hurt by a texting driver may find that proving their case to be challenging.

Surprising Results

Ferdinand was surprised to discover that texting bans with primary enforcement did not result in a significant reduction in traffic deaths among people ages 21 to 64. She did however note that accident-related fatalities among this age group did decline significantly in states that had enacted bans against the use of hand-held cell phones while driving.


Ferdinand hopes that policymakers will take note of the results, and enact laws accordingly. Her mentor, Dr. Nir Menachemi agreed, stating that “distracted driving is a growing problem affecting everyone on the roadways. It is my hope that policymakers act upon our findings so that motor vehicle deaths can be prevented.”

This study clearly shows that texting-while-driving bans can help save lives, although the degree to which this happens does vary. As awareness increases, chances are more states will want to enact new laws that will help keep people safe.