By Yasmin Tadjdeh | PA Independent
Laws against using cell phones and texting while driving may not be enough to get people to hang up and drive safely.
Megan Fitzpatrick, of Newtown, Bucks County, admits to texting while driving, even though she said she is aware of the risks.
“It annoys me when I see people looking down at their hands, and I know they’re texting … I will admit I have texted before while I was driving, and I see why you shouldn’t, because I get distracted,” Fitzpatrick said.
In fact, states that ban texting while driving have seen a slight uptick in texting-related crashes, based on collected collision claims, according to a recently released study conducted by the Highway Loss Data Institute. The HLDI is a research nonprofit that tracks and publishes information on insurance loss statistics for most vehicle and motorcycle models in the United States.
“There is no question that texting while driving is dangerous, but it doesn’t appear so far that new laws are an effective strategy,” said Russ Rader, vice president of communications at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an affiliate of HLDI.
However, state Rep. Kathy Watson, R-Bucks, majority chairwoman of the House Transportation Safety subcommittee and the lead sponsor of HB 8, which would make texting while driving a primary offense, said anti-texting laws make drivers think twice about texting behind the wheel.
“The law is a definite deterrent to the majority of law-abiding people,” and “serves as an educational tool,” said Watson.
The HLDI study found that the increase in texting-related mishaps resulted from people attempting to hide their texting from police and, in turn, becoming even more distracted. The study considered data from California, Louisiana, Minnesota and Washington state and the immediate months before and after anti-texting laws were enacted.
Rader attributed this increase to drivers believing they can multitask effectively, and so the law does not apply to them.
Despite these findings, Watson said more research must be conducted. The average American spends more than 100 hours per year in their car, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The Pennsylvania AAA Federation has been working with the General Assembly for years to enact anti-texting laws, but “any legislation needs to be accompanied by education,” said Ted Leonard, executive director of the Pennsylvania AAA Federation, the Pennsylvania division of AAA, which serves to help lobby for national legislation while supporting and engaging AAA members on transportation issues.
Sgt. Anthony Manetta, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Police, said the state police would not only work to enforce a ban on texting while driving if enacted, but would increase advertising and awareness campaigns to educate the public.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, or PennDOT, in 2010 there were 13,790 crashes that occurred because of distracted driving, compared with 5,155 distracted-driving incidents in 2000.
PennDOT does not differentiate between texting-related crashes and other methods of distracted driving, which include talking on a cell phone and paying more attention to a conversation with a passenger than on the road, said PennDOT press officer Erin Waters.
For people to understand the dangers of distracted driving, Fitzpatrick said she believes most people have to have a personal experience that affects them.
“What’s going to stop me from texting is … one of my friends getting in an accident, because they were texting while they were driving, or me personally running a red light because I was texting,” said Fitzpatrick.