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Study: Enforcement alone will not materially curb texting drivers

Ohio’s evolving and progressively stringent distracted driving laws evidence a strong legislative intent to crack down on dangerous driving behaviors deemed pronounced among state motorists.

Just last year, for example, and with an eye on reducing the closely linked tie between texting and cellphone use generally while behind the wheel and increased car accident risks, Ohio upped the ante on motorists using phones while driving. Here is what the law currently mandates:

  • For motorists 18 and older, no texting, with cellphone use allowable 
  • For motorists under 18 — no texting, no phone use

For adult offenders, the law is secondary. For minors, it is primary, meaning that they can be stopped and ticketed without evidence of other unlawful driving behavior (for example, not wearing a seat belt or running a red light).

A new study carried out by researchers at a college in Pennsylvania calls into question whether progressively tougher laws focused on distracted driving — such as Ohio’s 2012 revamping — make a material difference in drivers’ attitude and behaviors.

The study’s conclusions suggest that they do not and that enforcement efforts alone are “insufficient to persuade people” not to engage in activities like texting.

The research culled information from 120 college drivers, both men and women. A central finding was this: Women tend to text more, but not while driving, with male motorists being more apt to minimize or simply not recognize the known danger link between phone use while driving and crash outcomes.

Put another way: Although many male drivers might note a text/driving risk, the see it only where others are concerned.

The researchers say that their findings point to a need for further programs and initiatives to emerge that will influence drivers to put down their phones. Enforcement and punitive action alone doesn’t seem to be sufficiently advancing the goal.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “Males downplay risk of texting and driving, study says,” Monte Morin, Oct. 11, 2013