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Status Report, Vol. 43, No. 9 | October 22, 2008 Subscribe

More states ban texting by drivers

California and Alaska are the latest U.S. states to ban text messaging by drivers of all ages, not just teenagers. The two states join Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Washington in banning texting by all drivers amid concern that such distractions increase crash risk. Alaska's law took effect Sept. 1. California's ban begins Jan. 1, 2009. Both states make the use of an electronic device to write, send, or read text messages a primary offense, meaning that police officers can pull over drivers solely for violating the bans. Texting while driving also is a primary offense in Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Minnesota, and New Jersey.

Bans in Louisiana and Washington are secondary, so motorists must be violating another traffic law in order to be stopped by police for texting. Nine states have text messaging bans that apply only to novice drivers.

There's lots of anecdotal evidence tying texting while driving to crashes, but not much data from real-world collisions. Studies have linked cellphone use with crash risk (see "Using a phone while driving raises the risk of a crash with injuries," July 16, 2005, and "Cell phone use may raise collision risk," March 22, 1997).

In one of the first published studies on texting and driving, the Transport Research Laboratory in the United Kingdom found that texting degrades performance in a driving simulator. Researchers found that composing a text message affected driving more than reading one. The 17 drivers in the study — all were 17-24 years old — had slower reaction times, were more likely to drift out of their virtual lanes, and were more likely to reduce their speeds while they were texting.

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