A ban on handheld cellphone use in the Bay State is one step closer to law, even though studies have found similar bans in other states aren’t reducing crashes.
Last month, the state legislative Committee on Transportation voted unanimously to support a handheld cellphone ban. The House and Senate still need to vote on the issue.
While momentum builds up locally, the question remains whether a ban would make the roads safer.
A 2010 analysis by the Highway Loss Data Institute, an insurance industry group, looked at whether accident claims went down after the handheld ban went into affect in Connecticut, California, New York and the District of Columbia.
The findings were perplexing, particularly in light of an earlier study by an affiliated group that showed cellphone use in the car was dangerous.
“We called the findings a conundrum. We would have expected to see a decrease in crashes but we didn’t,” said Anne Fleming, spokeswoman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a group affiliated with the study. “We and other people have conducted numerous studies based on cellphone records and they established an increased risk using a cellphone. It could be that people who are no longer talking on phones are engaging in another risky practice, like fiddling with the radio or talking to others in the car. It could be the lack of compliance.”
Both Fleming and Jeff Larson, spokesman for the Safe Roads Alliance, a Massachusetts-based advocacy group, agree enforcement is key and that if laws aren’t strengthened then people will not take them seriously.
Groups see law as help to texting ban
Larson, of the Safe Roads Alliance, said they support the ban but primarily to reduce texting while driving.
In 2010, the state Legislature banned texting while driving, but according to Larson, without a hands-free mandate it is close to impossible for authorities to enforce.
“The call for a hands-free requirement is not because there is any change in safety whether you’re holding or not holding the phone while talking. It will give police more chance to crack down on texting,” he said.
Bill has history of failure
In 2010, the state Senate voted 16-18 to defeat a handheld cellphone ban, with opponents contending that holding cellphones aren’t causing accidents, but rather the distraction of the conversation is to blame. shns