Study quantifies safety gains distracted driving laws could offer in MT

A new study of the efficacy of different distracted driving laws highlights the benefits laws against texting or handheld phone use could offer in Montana.

Cellphone use is a contributing factor in almost one-quarter of all traffic accidents, according to National Safety Council estimates. In Montana, cellphone use played a known role in more than 1,600 car crashes between 2004 and 2013, according to the Montana Standard. Unfortunately, Montana has not joined other states in banning texting while driving or outlawing the general use of handheld phones.

The current laws leave Belgrade drivers exposed to reckless behaviors that are known to raise the risk of accidents. A recent study illustrated the kind of safety gains that new laws against these activities could offer.

Life-saving laws

The Montana Department of Transportation reports that some studies have shown the use of any kind of cellphone, including a hands-free cellphone, can increase accident risk a shocking 400 to 500 percent. In light of this fact, it is not surprising that laws banning or at least curbing this behavior can reduce severe injuries and even have life-saving effects.

A recent study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham explored the effectiveness of different types of distracted driving laws. Based on data from various states recorded in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System from 2000 to 2010, the study concluded the following:

  • Primary texting bans reduced traffic fatalities by an average of 3 percent, saving approximately 19 lives in each state.
  • Comprehensive handheld cellphone bans were more effective at preventing fatalities among drivers between ages 21 and 64.
  • Texting bans that targeted young drivers between ages 15 and 21 were the most effective texting bans, reducing fatalities among that age group by 11 percent.

This last gain is especially impactful, since research shows that drivers under age 24 are more likely to text than drivers in any other age group, according to the Montana Standard.

The study also found that secondary texting bans were not associated with a reduction in traffic fatalities, likely because these bans were more challenging to enforce. Under secondary bans, law enforcement authorities can only cite texting if a driver first commits another traffic violation. This finding suggests that, for distracted driving accidents in Montana to decrease, the state would need to enact primary bans.

Some Montana cities, including Bozeman, Butte, and Missoula, have already banned texting while driving under city ordinance. Still, some drivers may not be aware of these ordinances, and without a statewide ban, drivers in rural areas have little incentive to change their habits.

Distracted driving accidents

Currently, distracted driving is treated as reckless driving under Montana law. By definition, a reckless driver is one who operates a vehicle without showing reasonable regard for the safety of other people and physical property.

If a driver causes a harmful accident while he or she is distracted or engaging in other reckless behaviors, the victim may be entitled to compensation. Anyone who has been hurt in an accident caused by another driver's careless decisions should speak with an attorney about pursuing compensation.

Keywords: distracted, driving, texting, accident