Rep. Morgan’s text ban, amid evidence of unintended consequences

altState Representative Danny Morgan, immediate-past minority caucus leader in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, will this week make a renewed push to ban “texting while driving.”
The measure is expected to attract wide support, but recent studies indicate what some deem “the law of unintended consequences” has resulted in documented increases in “distracted driving” after passage of such laws in other states.

Morgan, a Prague Democrat, will hold a press conference at 2 p.m. Wednesday  (January 19) in the Governor’s Conference Room at the state Capitol. He will unveil his legislation to restrict cell phone use by all drivers of motor vehicles.
In a press release sent to CapitolBeatOK, Rep. Morgan said, “Texting while driving is not a practice committed only by young drivers, it’s becoming a common occurrence by drivers of all ages, and needs to be nipped in the bud.”
The release from state House staff continued, “Just last week in Sapulpa drivers on public roads fell again victim to the legal practice of texting while driving, as a 23-year-old male let his car cross the northbound lanes and strike head-on a pickup driven by a 27 year old female. The patrolman on the scene estimated they were both driving about 55 miles per hour at the time of the collision. 

“The male driver informed police he was texting his girlfriend at the time of the accident.”

Morgan’s legislation kicks off with a wide range of support from groups and individuals advocating safety on the state’s roads, including AAA Oklahoma, Farmers Insurance, Oklahoma Safety Council, Oklahoma State Department of Health, Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, Oklahoma Highway Safety Office, AT&T, and SAFE KIDS Oklahoma.
Former Governor Brad Henry, in his final weeks in office, promoted the ban on texting-while-driving. Legislators have previously backed such a ban for youthful drivers.
A study circulated last fall by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that the effect of texting bans is not a reduction in accidents, but a slight increase.
The institute pointed to analysis by its affiliated Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) finding “no reductions in crashes after laws take effect that ban texting by all drivers. In fact, such bans are associated with a slight increase in the frequency of insurance claims filed under collision coverage for damage to vehicles in crashes. This finding is based on comparisons of claims in 4 states before and after texting ban, compared with patterns of claims in nearby states.”
The findings were released in September at the annual meeting of the Governors Highway Safety Association and were described as “consistent with those of a previous HLDI study, which found that banning hand-held phone use while driving doesn’t cut crashes.”

The loss data group “calculated rates of collision claims for vehicles up to 9 years old during the months immediately before and after driver texting was banned in California (January 2009), Louisiana (July 2008), Minnesota (August 2008), and Washington (January 2008). Comparable data were collected in nearby states where texting laws weren’t substantially changed during the time span of the study. This controlled for possible changes in collision claim rates unrelated to the bans — changes in the number of miles driven due to the economy, seasonal changes in driving patterns, etc.”
Adrian Lung, president of the two institutes, said at the time, “Texting bans haven’t reduced crashes at all. In a perverse twist, crashes increased in 3 of the 4 states we studied after bans were enacted. It’s an indication that texting bans might even increase the risk of texting for drivers who continue to do so despite the laws.”
Lung says the findings, when considered with the previous findings that hand-held bans did not reduce crashes, "call into question the way policymakers are trying to address the problem of distracted driving crashes."
Oklahoma is one of several states where a range of proposals to limit the use of cell phones, whether for phone calls or texting, have emerged this winter. Another is Nevada, where the Nevada News Bureau’s Andrew Doughman  reports Democratic legislators are pushing bills to ban cell phone use and/or texting while driving. Those measures died in committee during the 2009 session.
Around the nation, 30 states have already banned texting while driving. Eleven of those measures passed in 2010.