Study: Hands free phone law not reducing crashes

January 29, 2010 7:27:02 PM PST
There is new information about California's ban on texting or using a cell phone while you drive. That new law is not reducing the number of car crashes. At least that is the finding of a report, from the insurance industry, but the California Highway Patrol disagrees.

Surprisingly, a new study by the Highway Loss Data Institute shows bans prohibiting handheld cell phone use while driving do not reduce the number of crashes. Collision claims in California were no different than in surrounding states that do not have the hands-free mandate.

"We don't have any evidence that cell phone laws are going to have much effect on highway safety," says Russ Rader with the Highway Loss Data Institute.

The study may gain attention because the researchers are affiliated with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a respected organization.

Since the hands-free law went into effect 18 months ago, the California Highway Patrol has issued more than 231,000 tickets. They dispute the study, saying crashes and traffic fatalities have gone down in the first six months alone by 20 percent.

"When folks are distracted and they're not paying attention to their driving, basiclly they're putting themselves at risk and other motorists in the state of California," says CHP Officer Adrian Quintero.

Keith James has a Bluetooth and knows personally how a handheld behind the wheel can be dangerous.

"I had a niece involved in an accident with someone using their handset to their ear. So I definitely thinking using the Bluetooth is beneficial," says Keith James.

Despite the new findings, the author of California's hands-free driving law is considering getting even tougher.

Senator Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, is looking at tripling the fine or making it a moving violation that adds a point to your driving record. He is even thinking of extending to people riding bicycles.

Allen Gong who has gotten a ticket for a cell phone violation thinks that is the wrong way to go.

"I feel like it's an infringement our rights now. If they make it a moving violation, if it affects my insurance, I think that they are going too far with that," says Gong. "You can say the radio is too loud and what? We're going to get a ticket for that too now?"