States with bans on texting while driving saw an average 4 percent reduction in emergency department visits after motor vehicle crashes, an equivalent of 1,632 traffic-related emergency department visits per year, according to a new analysis.
Researchers examined emergency department data across 16 US states between 2007 and 2014. The states were picked based on the availability of information regarding motor vehicle accident injuries for which emergency department treatment was needed.
In the United States, 47 out of 50 states currently have laws restricting texting while driving. Of the 16 states researchers looked at in the study, all but one (Arizona) had one of these laws.
Texting-while-driving bans are either primary laws, meaning drivers can be pulled over for texting regardless of whether another traffic violation took place, or secondary laws, in which drivers are sanctioned for texting only after another violation like speeding or running a red light took place. Some states implement the bans on all drivers, while others sanction only new drivers.
The states that had texting bans, regardless of the type or who it applied to, saw a 4 percent average reduction in emergency department visits, according to the results published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health. The states that chose to implement primary bans on all drivers saw an 8 percent reduction in crash-related injuries.
Drivers of all ages, even those older 65, who are typically not known for texting while driving, saw reductions in the number of injuries following crashes.
Alva Ferdinand, lead author of the study, a lawyer, and an assistant professor of health policy at the School of Public Health at Texas A&M University, explained her research has always focused on whether the laws that people consider punitive can have an impact on health.
“The law can be a very useful public health intervention. There are lives that can be saved and injuries prevented as a result of these laws,” said Ferdinand.
In 2016, nearly 3,500 people lost their lives and 391,000 were injured but survived a crash related to distracted driving, including texting, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Previous studies had not shown a benefit for laws that sanction drivers for texting only after another violation has taken place. These studies, however, have mainly examined whether there is a reduction in the number of deaths, the authors explain. Injuries are a much more likely outcome, they argue, and therefore, they’re important to study and consider in public health efforts.
Ferdinand explained the study has two main limitations. It did not measure how well laws are implemented in different states and, perhaps most importantly, it did not include all 50 states.
Despite its limitations, Ferdinand is confident the same trends are true around the country.