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New study shows hands-free cellphone laws are preventing more deaths on the road

Texas deputy caught texting and driving by man he arrested
Posted at 6:23 AM, Jul 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-30 07:46:29-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Across the nation, we’re seeing distracted driving cause more than 3,000 deadly traffic crashes every year and new drivers are most at risk. In 2018, 2,841 lives were lost nationwide due to distracted driving and 52 of those fatalities were Ohioans. To clarify, cellphone use may involve manual distraction (hands off the steering wheel), visual distraction (eyes off the road), and cognitive distraction (mind off driving) and includes activities such as calling, texting, looking at apps and various other uses.

But are laws requiring drivers to put those devices away actually saving lives?

Nationwide Children's Hospital did a study finding some hands-free cellphone laws across the nation are helping, but not all of them.

“We know states have various traffic types of cell phone laws then we wanted to explore on this issue and we analyzed traffic deaths in the United States from 1999 through 2016,” said Dr. Motao Zhu, lead author of the study and principal investigator in the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

The study found calling-only, texting-only, texting plus phone-manipulating and calling and texting bans typically result in less compliance from drivers. However, hands-free cellphone laws were associated with fewer deaths and prevented nearly 14,000 injuries and 140 driver deaths each year in the U.S. The problem is these laws are in place in 21 states. Ohio is not one of them.

"We share a common goal to help pass a stronger law in Ohio,” said Dr. Zhu. "Ohio only has the texting only ban and it is a secondary enforcement.”

Ohio's texting and driving law first went into effect in 2013. The law doesn't cover watching videos, surfing the internet or using any app including GPS.

"They don't have the same life-saving benefits,” said Dr. Zhu.

Laws like Ohio’s are also expensive. According to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, distracted driving-related crashes across the state add up to about $1.2 billion every year, which equals to more than $2,300 every minute.

Researchers recommend, "if you need to use your phone while driving, do so hands-free. They're also encouraging states implement hands-free cellphone laws to encourage this behavior change.