Indiana University

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Last modified: Wednesday, February 10, 2010

IU policy brief: Laws are only part of the solution for cell phone use and driving

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Feb. 10, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS -- Laws that ban cell phone use and text-messaging while driving won't have much impact unless they are accompanied by well-designed enforcement and public awareness campaigns, according to a recent policy brief from an Indiana University research center.

The brief, "Cell phones and driving: A review of legislation, risk perception and mitigation tactics," was produced by the Center for Criminal Justice Research, part of the IU Public Policy Institute at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

"It's not that laws on cell phones and driving are doomed to fail," said Matt Nagle, a research analyst at the center and the author of the brief. "The laws are the first step, and it's what you do afterward that counts."

Nagle added that follow-up campaigns should be designed for target audiences. For example, research shows that older drivers are deterred by the threat of law enforcement. But younger drivers are more influenced by a peer culture that says driving while using a cell phone is acceptable.

Indiana implemented a ban on driving while using a cell phone for drivers under the age of 18 in July 2009. Last week, the Indiana House of Representatives voted 95-3 to outlaw texting while driving for all drivers; the bill is pending in the state Senate.

The IU policy brief cites studies that show the risk of having an accident is several times greater for drivers who are using cell phones. A Virginia Tech study found that truck drivers who were text-messaging were 23 times more likely to have a crash or near-crash than those who weren't. But surveys also find a "perceptual gap" between driver attitudes and behaviors, the brief says. While most respondents say that driving and cell phones don't mix, many of the same people admit to having talked on a cell or even sent text messages while driving.

"Without publicity campaigns to highlight the risks and without enforcement to provide a punitive deterrent, drivers may be inclined to continue this driving behavior," the policy brief says.

Another issue for Indiana, Nagle said, is that many Hoosier drivers are unaccompanied by passengers. Research has shown, not surprisingly, that drivers who are alone are more likely to talk on their phones. "They may stop making calls, but what's going to happen when they receive a call," he said.

The policy brief is available online at

The brief is part of a larger body of work produced by the Center for Criminal Justice Research on traffic safety issues facing Indiana. Conducted on behalf of the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute with a $350,000 grant, the research analyzes a variety of policy and enforcement issues including impaired driving, motorcyclist culture, young drivers, and children involved in vehicle collisions in Indiana.

About the Center for Criminal Justice Research

The Center for Criminal Justice Research works with public safety agencies and social services organizations to provide impartial applied research on criminal justice and public safety issues. It is part of the IU Public Policy Institute, a collaborative, multidisciplinary research institute within the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

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