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Drivers’ use of handheld cell phones before and after New York State’s cell phone law

McCartt, Anne T.; Braver, Elisa R.; Geary, Lori L.
Preventive Medicine
May 2003

Background: In response to public concern about driver distraction from cellular telephones, New York became the first state to ban handheld cell phone use while driving. The law, accompanied by considerable publicity, included a warning phase (November 2001), after which violators could be fined. Until March 2002, fines could be waived if motorists provided proof of purchase of hands-free accessories.
Methods: Daytime cell phone use among passenger vehicle drivers was observed at controlled intersections 1 month before the law's implementation, after fines could be issued (December 2001), and after waivers were not allowed (March 2002). Use was observed for 37,462 vehicles in four New York communities and 21,315 vehicles in two central Connecticut communities. Driver gender, estimated age, and vehicle type were recorded for cell phone users and a sample of passing motorists.
Results: The use rate in New York declined significantly from 2.3% before the law to 1.1% after the law (P < 0.05). Use rates in Connecticut, an adjacent state without a law, did not change. In both states, use was higher among drivers of sport utility vehicles (P < 0.05) and minimal among drivers ages 60 or older. In New York, observed use declined among drivers younger than 60, male and female drivers, and all vehicle types.
Conclusions: A well-publicized law restricting drivers' use of handheld cell phones had a strong effect on behavior. Whether compliance will remain high is unknown.