Short-term effects of a teenage driver cell phone restriction

Foss, Robert D. / Goodwin, Arthur H. / McCartt, Anne T. / Hellinga, Laurie A.
Accident Analysis & Prevention (AAP)
May 2009

On December 1, 2006, North Carolina began prohibiting use of any mobile communication device by drivers younger than 18. The current study examined the effects of the law on teenage drivers' cell phone use. Teenage drivers were observed at high schools in North Carolina 1-2 months before and approximately 5 months after the law took effect. The proportion of teenagers using cell phones did not change significantly (11.0% before the law took effect, 11.8% after). Cell phone use among teenage drivers at high schools in South Carolina, an adjacent state without a teenage driver phone ban, was stable at about 13%. Interviews were conducted with parents and teenagers in North Carolina both before and after the law took effect. In post-law interviews, teenagers were more likely than parents to say they knew about the cell phone restriction (64% vs. 39%), but support for the ban was greater among parents (95% vs. 74%). Only 22% of teenagers and 13% of parents believed the law was being enforced fairly often or a lot. Although the proportion of teenagers who reported using phones while driving declined somewhat following the law, about half admitted they used their phones, if they had driven, on the day prior to the interview. Overall, the findings suggest that North Carolina's cell phone restriction had little to no effect on teenage drivers' use of cell phones shortly after the law took effect.