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Effects of Washington, D.C. law on drivers’ hand-held cell phone use

McCartt, Anne T.; Hellinga, Laurie A.; Geary, Lori L.
Traffic Injury Prevention (TIP)
March 2006

Objective: To assess the effects of Washington, D.C. law prohibiting drivers' use of hand-held cell phones on such use.
Methods: Daytime observations of drivers were conducted at signalized intersections in D.C. in March 2004, several months before the law took effect on July 1, 2004, and again in October 2004. As a comparison, observations also were conducted in areas of Virginia and Maryland located close to the D.C. border. Maryland and Virginia placed no limitations on drivers' phone use. Use was observed for 36,091 vehicles in D.C., 25,151 vehicles in Maryland, and 28,483 vehicles in Virginia.
Results: The rate of talking on hand-held cell phones among drivers in D.C. declined significantly from 6.1% before the law to 3.5% after. Phone use declined slightly in Maryland and increased significantly in Virginia so that, relative to the patterns of hand-held phone use in the two states, phone use in D.C. declined 50%. Hand-held phone use in D.C. declined comparably among drivers of vehicles registered in all three jurisdictions. D.C. police issued 2,556 citations and 1,232 warnings for cell phone violations during July-November 2004. There were spates of media coverage when the law was passed and when it took effect.
Conclusions: D.C.'s law prohibiting drivers' hand-held phone use had a strong effect on such use among drivers in D.C. Without ongoing publicized enforcement of the law, long-term compliance may be difficult to achieve.