Do laws banning cell phones while driving work?

    States across the country are banning or restricting texting or cell-phone talking while driving. In the future, they might be required to have these laws to qualify for certain types of federal funding.

    But are the laws effective? And if so, which ones work best?

    A new study from Temple University provides the groundwork to find out.

    Cell phones and driving can be a dangerous combination–the evidence is clear on that. Most states, including New Jersey and Delaware, have laws that restrict the use of cell phones while driving. In many other states, including Pennsylvania, such legislation is pending.

    But Temple University researchers say we don’t really know if and what kind of legislation works. As a first step, they have compiled a detailed and comprehensive database of all state laws involving the use of cell phones behind the wheel–from 1992 to 2010.

    Public health professor Jennifer Irbahim led this effort. She says the database details should be used to generate the next round of research, for example in evaluating penalties: “How high does the fine have to be to be effective, or are people willing to pay the price to be able to do business or talk to somebody while they’re driving?”

    She says using the database, researchers can now crosscheck legislation and crash statistics to see which laws work.

    “What we’re advocating is that the states look to the evidence that’s being generated. If these laws are effective, that’s fine,” said Ibrahim. “But if they are not effective, (states should be) able to go back and use that evidence to modify the laws so that it is effective.”

    Ibrahim says that it might turn out that laws are too hard to enforce, and that it will take a change in public attitude to get drivers to hang up.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.