Laws against texting while driving reduce emergency room visits
New evidence from Texas A&M School of Public Health indicates that texting-while-driving laws may avert the need for emergency treatment following a motor vehicle crash. Researchers found that states with a primary texting ban on all drivers on average saw an 8 percent reduction in emergency department visits resulting from a motor vehicle crash.
Approximately 39 million Americans visit emergency departments every year due to all types of injuries, but many of them motor vehicle crashes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A primary texting ban means that police officers can stop someone they see texting while driving. With a secondary ban, on the other hand, police officers can only cite someone for texting while driving if they pull the driver over for another reason, like speeding or running a red light.
Some of Ferdinand’s previous research showed that texting bans do reduce the number of crash-related deaths and hospitalizations, but in this study, she wanted to determine if they also reduce the number of minor injuries typically treated in an emergency department setting.
“What I’m most interested in studying is whether laws—even ones we think of as punitive—benefit population health,” Ferdinand said.
Ferdinand’s current research found that primary bans reduced crash-related emergency room visits in all age groups. “This is pretty convincing evidence that presence of the laws has some beneficial implications,” Ferdinand said.
The researchers studied 16 states in the country, comparing them to themselves and to Arizona, which served as the control state because it didn’t have a texting ban during the study period. They were also able to model how many crash-related emergency department visits were averted due to the bans while taking into account other factors that might affect crash rates, such as gasoline prices.
The findings indicated that states with a primary ban on all drivers saw reductions in motor vehicle-related emergency department visits in all age groups. The average 8 percent reduction seen in states with a primary texting ban translates to 3,264 fewer visits per year. When looking at various age groups specifically, on average, states with a primary texting ban saw 778 fewer visits among those 15–21 years old, 1378 among those 22–33 years old, and 507 among those 34–45 years old each year following the implementation of the ban.
Ferdinand cautioned that because the research team only looked at 16 states, they can’t be sure the trends they saw would hold for the entire country. “We also can’t measure how well these laws are being enforced on the ground,” she said. “However, it’s exciting when research can demonstrate that the law can be a useful public health intervention.”