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Tougher distracted driving laws don’t always deter bad drivers

California is considering toughening its distracted driving laws, but will tougher laws make drivers safer?

As CBS Sacramento recently reported, state lawmakers are considering toughening California’s distracted driving law. The State Senate recently passed SB 1030, which would make distracted driving a moving violation instead of just an infraction. While the tougher distracted driving law is commendable in many ways, especially given the rising number of motor vehicle accidents, it remains an open question whether such laws actually deter bad drivers. An overview of scientific studies on the problem shows that tough laws have a very limited effect on changing drivers’ behavior.

Points for distracted driving

California’s first texting and driving ban went into effect in 2009. In 2017, it was expanded to ban all handheld use of cellphones while driving. Currently, the fine for driving while distracted is $20 plus penalties for the first offense and then $50 plus penalties for any subsequent offenses.

However, the ban is merely an infraction, meaning that drivers do not have to worry about points being added to their records if they are caught driving while distracted. SB 1030, in classifying distracted driving as a moving violation, would change that. By adding points for the offense, guilty drivers could see their insurance premiums go up and, if they accumulate enough points, they could even lose their licenses.

SB 1030 was recently unanimously approved by the Senate and it now heads to the Assembly.

Do distracted driving laws work?

While it is good news that state lawmakers are taking distracted driving seriously, it is questionable whether drivers are doing the same. As Ars Technica reports, some of the states that are the most vigilant about enforcing their texting and driving laws also have some of the highest rates of texting and driving. New York, for example, bans all handheld use of cellphones and issues the second-most texting and driving citations in the country (11,996). Despite that, New Yorkers remain the most frequent texters while driving, sending an average of 8.21 messages during rush hour between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Furthermore, as WIVB News reports, widespread awareness of how dangerous distracted driving is doesn’t appear to change drivers’ behavior. An AAA study, for example, found that the percentage of drivers who say they had recently talked on their cellphones while driving had risen from 46 percent in 2013 to 49 percent in 2018. Despite that, 88 percent of drivers said that distracted driving is more dangerous than aggressive driving.

Representing injured motorists

Distracted driving is a scourge on the roads and it is responsible for thousands of accidents each year. Anybody who has been hurt in an accident, especially if it may have been caused by a distracted driver, should contact a personal injury attorney for help. An experienced attorney can show clients what their legal options are and guide them through the often-complicated claims process.

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