Are the New Cell Phone Laws Working?


As I was running errands the other day, I was yet again cut off by someone oblivious to my presence because she was talking on the phone. Then she had the nerve to wave her hands at me as if *I* had cut her off. Since we have a hands-free law in place, it made me wonder if it does any good whatsoever.

Every day–EVERY DAY–I see parents speeding through my kids’ school zones, hand up to ear. It’s bad enough they’re talking on the phone, but they’re speeding too. I’ve always wondered what these folks are thinking. Do they wonder why everyone else is going slow? Do they think their kids are the only ones that matter? To me, it smacks of disrespect. They clearly don’t respect my kids if they’re willing to maim or kill them. You can only blame ignorance for so long.

Not too long ago, there was a parent, with her cell up to her ear, blocking the crosswalk I was in as I crossed the street to pick up my dd from school. She had no idea I was there and I waited patiently in the middle of a travel lane while she sat there; I thought certainly she’d move on out of the way. After a few seconds, I tapped her car with my hand–I surely didn’t want to startle her. I hit the car harder when she didn’t hear me. Yup, nasty look in my direction. Sheesh. ‘Cause it was my fault she parked her car in the middle of a freaking crosswalk.

In 2009, the Highway Loss Data Institute, a division of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), studied cell phone bans and their effectiveness in reducing insurance claims (a.k.a. crashes). What they found was that handheld cell phone bans did not influence insurance claims. They compared states with laws to neighboring states without and found they trended the same. What they didn’t study was whether handheld cell phone bans reduced the frequency of calls and texts. If the insurance claims remained similar in those states with bans compared to those without bans, it might tell us that drivers using Bluetooth devices are still distracted. A University of Utah study concluded just that, along with comparing cell phone use with drunk driving. Though the driving behaviors of drunks and cell phone users are different, the end result is the same: impaired driving that can result in injury or death.

However, a more recent University of California, Berkeley study shows that in California, which has had a 4 year ban on hand-held cell phones while driving, deaths and injuries blamed on drivers using hand-held cells dropped by nearly half. That’s a pretty significant difference in study findings, though we are comparing collision statistics to deaths and injuries.

Regardless, we do know that distracted drivers cause problems. From what I’ve seen in driving around town, our 7-month old hand-held cellphone ban has done nothing to change driver behaviors. And why should it with a fine of only $50? Behaviors aren’t going to change unless drivers feel threatened—and for fifty bucks? Not gonna happen. I’ve made a conscious effort to make phone calls while parked and to not touch my cell phone while driving, so I know the law has changed my behavior. But I’m a law-abiding person in the first place, so I’m not going to be the one to test out whether or not that cop next to me sees my hand on the phone. Really what we all need to do, including cops, is hang up and drive.


  1. Katie March 29, 2012
  2. Jools March 29, 2012
  3. Jennie March 28, 2012