Study: Hands-free cellphone laws associated with fewer driver deaths


(WPRI) — Researchers in Ohio recommend all states implement hands-free cellphone laws, in an effort to reduce traffic fatalities.

The study, led by researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital looked at drivers, non-drivers (passengers, pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists), and total deaths involved in passenger vehicle crashes in the United States between 1999-2016.

Dr. Motao Zhu, the lead author of the study and principal investigator in the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s, says the research demonstrates hands-free laws not only save lives but also reduce the societal costs with distracted driving.

Researchers found hands-free laws have prevented about 140 driver deaths and 13,900 driver injuries annually in the U.S.

In 2019, more than 3,100 people were killed in accidents involving distracted driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

While most states have some kind of ban against texting or calling while driving, 21 states, including Massachusetts and Rhode Island, have enacted laws against all handheld cell phone use, including calling, texting, and using apps.

Zhu says while these laws appear to be working, laws that only ban texting or calling are not nearly as effective.

Researchers are recommending all states adopt rules to prevent drivers from handling a phone, especially teenagers.

“They have the highest crash risk,” Zhu said, “so they shouldn’t use any cell phone at all,” he continued.

A hands-free law has been in effect in Massachusetts since February 2020, and drivers found at fault can face up to $500 in fines, plus insurance surcharge and mandatory completion of the distracted driving educational program.

Rhode Island’s hands-free law has been in effect since June 2018, with first time violators facing up to $100 in fines.

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