Why Cell Phone Bans Don’t Actually Work

A new study published by MIT in Boston shows that cell phone bans aren’t as effective as everyone believes because people who talk on their phones while driving may already be unsafe drivers.

The MIT study involved 108 people, and researchers asked the drivers to separate themselves before the study into “frequent users” of their cell phone while driving and “rare users” who only use hands-free devices a few times each month, reports The Daily Mail.

On average, frequent cell phone users drove on average 4.4 kilometers faster, changed lanes twice as much, and engaged in more hard breaking maneuvers than those who rarely talk while driving.

Study leader Bryan Reimer noted that, “These are not ‘oh-my-god’ differences.” The human factors engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge added that:

“They are subtle clues indicative of more aggressive driving. It’s clear that cell phones in and of themselves impair the ability to manage the demands of driving. But the fundamental problem may be the behavior of the individuals willing to pick up the technology.”

The 108 people involved in the study were asked to drive for 40 minutes on Interstate 93 north of Boston. They drove a black Volvo SUV which was decked out with an eye tracker, heart and skin monitors, video cameras, and on-board sensors.

Boston.com notes that Bryan Reimer also stated:

“The people who are more willing to frequently engage in cellphone use are higher-risk drivers, independent of the phone. It’s not just a subtle difference with those willing to pick up the phone. This is a big difference.”

While none of the drivers used phones while driving, the frequent cell phone users tended to drive faster, change lanes more, and spend more time in the far-left lane than those who rarely use phones. The frequent callers also accelerated more rapidly and slammed their brakes more often.

While no one questions the risks involved in using a cell phone while driving, Reimer’s research suggests that the driver’s personality may actually be the more significant risk. Reimer adds that frequent cell phone use while driving could be “an indicator of willingness to engage in risky behavior” in general.

Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Virginia, has said that his institution has not seen a drop in traffic accidents despite cell phone bans. Lund stated that, so far, “we have not seen that those bans have reduced crashes.”

Lund also added that the popularity of cell phones has not led to an increase in auto accidents. He also believes that the MIT study could help explain why accident levels have stayed the same. He stated:

“Maybe if they’re not talking on their cellphones, they’ll be distracting themselves with something else.”

Despite MIT’s study, however, State Senator Mark Montigny, a Democrat from New Bedford, has said that he will still support a bill to ban cell phones while driving. Montigny stated:

“If the most irresponsible drivers are consistently irresponsible, fine. You can’t really legislate against irresponsibility or stupidity, but you can at least take away one of the distractions.”

Do you think that cell phone bans are useful, or will distracted drivers simply find something else to keep them occupied?

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