Looking back over the past seven years, it appears that banning cellphone use while driving may actually improve safety. A University of Illinois study just released is the first long-term examination of accident statistics where at least one driver in a crash was on the phone in one way or another. The best results were found in urban counties with large numbers of drivers per mile of roadway. That is a new way at looking at populations, by the way. Normally it’s the number of drivers per square mile; in this case it was the number of drivers per mile of road. Oddly, and this may be just a statistical glitch, very rural areas had slightly higher levels of accidents caused while phoning.
The Illinois researchers looked at New York and Pennsylvania. New York bans cellphones in vehicles and Pennsylvania does not. Both states have similar weather patterns and population densities. The counties in each state were classified as urban, rural, or very rural. Scholars discovered that when the ban first took effect in New York, the accident rate increased for a while, then came down and stayed down across all populations.
The further down into the statistics one dives, the murkier the results. The benefit in urban counties was clear. But why the accident rates went up slightly in rural counties, where the risks of hitting someone else should be lower, is not very clear. The researchers listed a number of possible causes including lower enforcement rates and fewer accidents. A study co-author remarked, “Based on this research, it suggests that a blanket cellphone ban may not always lead to a greater benefit. Based on the seven-year time period that we were able to examine, the outcome in each group of counties after the ban was not uniformly beneficial.”
The Illinois researchers say their report supports the need for cellphone bans in urban areas, but prohibiting their use in rural areas may have to be addressed separately. Allowing some motorists to make calls while driving and denying the privilege to city dwellers may not sit well with state lawmakers or drivers.
Source: Claims Journal, “Cellphone while driving bans more effective in urban areas,” Liz Ahlberg, Nov. 21, 2012