OTS: Calif. cell phone deaths falling

California fatalities linked to handheld cell phone use fell by almost half following enactment of the state’s ban on use of the wireless devices while driving, a new study indicates.

In the two years following the July 2008 adoption of the distracted driving law, handheld cell phone driver deaths decreased 47 percent, the Safe Transportation Research and Education Center (SafeTREC) at the University of California, Berkeley, found.

Similar reductions occurred in the number of injuries, as well as deaths associated with cell phone use with hands-free accessories, SafeTREC said. Overall, California traffic deaths fell 22 percent in the two-year period, compared with the two years before the handheld cell phone law took effect.

“These results suggest that the law banning handheld cell phone use while driving had a positive impact on reducing traffic fatalities and injuries,” said David Ragland, director of SafeTREC.

A few widely publicized studies have questioned the effectiveness of cell phone bans. The Highway Loss Data Institute reported in early 2010 that auto insurance collision claims remained about the same in California and a few other states after they adopted bans on the use of handheld cell phones. (The study only reported on newer vehicles and did not include accidents in which no claims were made.)

The California DMV says there were 460,487 handheld cell phone convictions in 2011, up 22 percent compared with 2010 (361,260 convictions) and up 52 percent from 2009 (301,833).

“Highly visible and publicized enforcement, along with the cooperation of the motoring public to reduce distractions behind the wheel, has played a significant role in the reduction in collisions,” said California Highway Patrol Commissioner Joe Farrow.

Read the California Office of Traffic Safety news release on handheld cell phone death statistics (PDF). OTS funds SafeTREC distracted driving research and educational initiatives. OTS, created by the Legislature, exists mainly to funnel federal highway safety grants to state and local programs.

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