Laws that ban texting while driving have strong public support. But do they actually help?
Along with colleagues at the University of Michigan and the National Institutes of Health, I addressed this issue by studying the effect of Michigan’s 2010 law banning texting while driving. We used time series methods to analyze 8 years of Michigan crash records to determine if the law had a protective effect?
Our results: the rate of severe crashes actually increased by a small amount. The law was ineffective at best. At worst, the ban made the roads less safe. One potential reason for this counterintuitive result is that the law incentivizes risky behavior. Instead of sending text messages with phone near the wheel, a driver may attempt to avoid a ticket by texting with the phone in his lap (and thus increasing the time that eyes are off the road).
Marketing departments use data to assess the effectiveness of ad campaigns. Lenders use data to estimate the default risk of a credit applicant.
And policy makers should use data to assess the effectiveness of legislation.
Perhaps pairing the legislation with strong enforcement mechanisms or public awareness campaigns would help. But our data-driven analysis showed that stand-alone legislation to prohibit texting did little to protect Michiganders on their roadways.