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Traffic Inj Prev. 2010 Apr;11(2):133-41. doi: 10.1080/15389580903515427.

Long-term effects of handheld cell phone laws on driver handheld cell phone use.

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  • 1Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Arlington, Virginia 22201, USA.



As of October 2009, seven U.S. states and the District of Columbia (D.C.) ban driving while talking on a handheld cell phone. Long-term effects on driver handheld phone use in D.C., New York State, and Connecticut were examined.


The percentage of drivers talking on handheld cell phones was measured over time with daytime observation surveys in the jurisdictions with bans and comparison jurisdictions without bans. Trends were modeled using Poisson regression to estimate differences between actual rates and rates that would have been expected without a ban.


The D.C. ban immediately lowered the percentage of drivers talking on handheld cell phones by 41 percent. Nearly 5 years later, the rate was 43 percent lower than would have been expected without the ban. Use in Connecticut declined 76 percent immediately after the ban; 3.5 years later, use was 65 percent lower than would have been expected without the ban. In New York, use declined 47 percent immediately after the ban; 7 years later, use was 24 percent lower than expected without the ban. Fifteen months after the laws took effect, compliance in New York was lower than in D.C., and the difference appeared due to more intensive enforcement in D.C. However, this linkage is no longer clear because enforcement in New York picked up such that 2008 levels of enforcement appeared comparable in D.C. and New York, whereas enforcement in Connecticut lagged behind. In all three jurisdictions, the chance that a violator would receive a citation was low, and there were no publicized targeted enforcement campaigns.


Jurisdictional bans have reduced handheld phone use and appear capable of maintaining reductions for the long term. However, it is unknown whether overall phone use is lower because many drivers may have switched to hands-free devices. Further research is needed to determine whether reduced handheld cell phone use has reduced crashes.

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