Do bans on texting while driving work?

Date posted: April 29, 2013

Smartphones help us in many ways, but like many things, they also can be used in ways that can create problems. One of these ways is to text while driving. Many states, including North Carolina, now have bans on this activity. N.C. State University economist Mike Walden considers whether these bans have  been successful.

“It’s a question that researchers are just beginning to address. And one of the first pieces of research on this issue, which is published by a couple of economists in the American Economic Journal – and their results are sort of a good news/bad news situation: On the good-news side, they found that texting bans like we have in North Carolina were found to be related to reduced traffic accidents involving fatalities as long as the ban was enforced by what we call a primary offense, meaning that a police officer can stop you for texting rather than stopping you for something else and then see if you were texting. So, that’s the good news: There does seem to be an association between these bans and reduced traffic accident fatalities.

“The bad news though that the researchers found is that this impact – this good impact – seems to dissipate, and in fact, it dissipates in as short a period of time as three months. That is, people go back to their old habits after three months.

“So I think the conclusion here is that we need to study this more. Number one, we need more research on this matter. And I think we need more consideration of the design of the laws on text banning as well as the penalties to see if we can get that lasting effect last a little longer.”

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