Like almost every other state, New Jersey has a law meant to reduce car accidents caused by distracted drivers. Motorists in the Garden State cannot text or operate their cellphone by hand while driving. These are primary laws, which means the police can pull over a driver they suspect is handling their phone behind the wheel. Hands-free cellphone use is allowed, though discouraged.
Distracted driving laws have been on the books across most states for many years. It can be challenging to tell if they are making our highways and surface streets safer. But a new study suggests they are, at least in the context of rear-end car crashes.
Study examines statutes’ effect on rear-end collisions
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently examined car accident data from five western states. Three of the states — California, Oregon and Washington — entirely ban handheld cellphone use while driving, similar to New Jersey. The other two states studied, Colorado and Idaho, only ban texting. According to IIHS, when compared to the latter two states, the rates of injury from rear-end car accidents dropped in Oregon by 9 percent and in Washington by 11 percent since their laws went into effect. Distracted drivers often rear-end the vehicle in front of them because they did not notice that the other driver had stopped or slowed down.
The rear-end accident injury numbers did not go down in California after it instituted its handheld phone band. But IIHS notes that California’s statute does not explicitly state that drivers cannot handle their phones at red lights and in stopped traffic. Washington’s and Oregon’s statutes do.
Different laws have different results
These numbers show progress in combating distracted driving. They also show that the effect of a distracted driving law depends on how broad and enforceable it is. Stronger laws will likely do more to reduce distracted driving crashes than relatively narrow ones like a texting-only ban.
Until all New Jersey drivers get the message that driving while distracted by their phone is unreasonably dangerous, there will be serious injuries from collisions caused by distracted drivers. Victims will need compensation for their resulting medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering and other damages.