Despite nationwide initiatives to curb cell phone use while driving, there is no evidence indicating that the bans are effective, according to a report out today.
Nevertheless, the 40-page document urged states to enact cell phone and texting bans, even as it declared that there is "no solid evidence that any [ban] is effective in reducing crashes, injuries, or fatalities."
The report, "Distracted Driving: What Research Shows and What States Can Do," developed by a host of transportation safety officials, also called on employers, the automobile industry and the federal government to continue to develop tests and implement measures to combat all forms of distracted driving.
The report summarized all research on distracted drivers available as of January 2011 and focused its attention on distractions caused by cell phones and text messaging.
One recent study said that about two-thirds of all drivers reported using a cell phone while driving.
The new document found that there was no conclusive evidence that hands-free cell phone use is less risky than hand-held use.
It suggested that texting may carry a higher risk than other forms of cell phone use, but again found there was no conclusive evidence to verify that claim.
As of June 2011, 34 states and the District of Columbia had enacted texting bans for all drivers, but a 2010 study conducted by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HDLI) found that the bans did not reduce collision claims.
In fact, claims increased slightly in states enacting texting bans compared to neighboring states.
HLDI suggested two possible reasons for the increase.
"Texters may realize that texting bans are difficult to enforce, so they may have little incentive to reduce texting for fear of being detected and fined," the HDLI report said. Or, the institute suggested, texters may have responded to the ban by "hiding their phones from view, potentially increasing their distractive effects by requiring longer glances away from the road."
Although today's report shows that bans may not be effective, there is a significant amount of data that illustrates distracted driving is clearly a growing problem. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration's (NHTSA) data show that in 2009 alone, nearly 5,500 fatalities and another half million injuries resulted from crashes involving a distracted driver. Distraction-related fatalities represented 16 percent of overall traffic fatalities in 2009 -- up from 10 percent in 2005.
While the majority of today's report emphasized the dangers of electronic distractions, anything that diverts a driver's full attention from the road is also a distraction, including eating, drinking, talking, adjusting the radio, and even updating a GPS.
Joel Feldman, a prominent Philadelphia trial attorney, believes that legislation is desperately needed to protect the road from distracted drivers. July 17th will mark the two-year anniversary of his 21-year old daughter Casey's death, after she was struck and killed by a driver who took his eyes off the road for a few seconds to grab an iced tea.
"The fact is, laws will affect behavior change and the way people drive," Feldman said. "Sometimes I think twice about stopping at a red light when the roads are empty, but I do because I don't want to get a ticket."
In addition to legislation and enforcement, Feldman believes that education from a young age is key when it comes to nipping bad driving habits in the bud. "I'm 56 and I'm not giving up on my generation, but I think you need to start with the kids and encourage them and teach them about the dangers of distracted driving."
Most recently, Disney-Pixar, in connection with NHTSA, produced a public service video introducing children to the dangers of distracted driving.
Sesame Street also hopped on board, appointing their dynamic blue monster Grover as the show's Road Safety Ambassador, in an effort to raise awareness and promote safe road practices from a young age.
Lynda Tran, spokeswoman for NHTSA, says that when it comes to distracted driving one thing is clear: "Any activities that take extended focus away from the primary task of driving are both unsafe and unwise. The bottom line is there's no good reason to engage in distracted driving."