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Public health research shows bans on texting reduce hospitalizations

Team of researchers examined crash-related hospitalizations before and after the enactment of state texting bans

Bans on texting while driving can reduce crash-related hospitalizations of both drivers and passengers, according to new research published by a faculty member at the Texas A&M School of Public Health.

Alva O. Ferdinand, DrPH, JD, led a team of researchers that examined crash-related hospitalizations before and after the enactment of state texting bans. Nineteen states were included in the study, which was based on hospital discharge data captured between 2003 and 2010. Some states had passed bans on texting while driving while other states, including Texas, had no such bans.

The study found that on average, there was a 7 percent reduction in crash-related hospitalizations in states that have enacted texting-while-driving bans. Hospitalizations were reduced the most—9 percent—among 22–64 year olds and those aged 65 and older.

“Our research indicates that adults in states with a primary texting ban stand to benefit the most in terms of potentially avoiding crash-related hospitalizations,” Ferdinand said. “Given that the texting driver may cause a crash, but may not be the one most seriously injured, restricting texting bans to young drivers only is perhaps not the best approach to preventing crash-related hospitalizations.”

The study, titled “The Impact of Texting Bans on Motor Vehicle Crash-Related Hospitalizations” was recently published online ahead of print in the American Journal of Public Health, one of the country’s most influential public health journals.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 2.5 million adult drivers and passengers in the United States sought medical attention following involvement in a motor vehicle crash in 2012. Additionally, the CDC says the costs of productivity losses and medical care due to injuries sustained in motor vehicle crashes in a one-year period are more than $80 billion. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has estimated that more than 400,000 individuals have been injured in crashes involving a distracted driver. In efforts to combat distracted driving, many states have enacted texting-while-driving bans, but very little is known about their effectiveness in improving roadway outcomes.

Previous research has shown that improvements in state unemployment rates and per capita incomes, as well as lower gasoline prices, are associated with increased crash risk.

“Because we are seeing improvements in the economy and gasoline prices are about one dollar cheaper than they were this time last year, states should be considering steps to implement policies such as texting bans that will help to offset these trends,” said Michael Morrisey, PhD, a study co-author and interim head of the Department of Health Policy and Management at the School of Public Health.

Additional authors of the study include Nir Menachemi, PhD, MPH; Bisakha Sen, PhD; Justin Blackburn, PhD; and Leonard Nelson III, JD, LLM, from the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health.

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