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Texting bans just don't work

by Greg Belfrage

South Dakota lawmakers will once again consider a texting while driving ban.

Sen. Mike Vehle of Mitchell introduced a bill last year. His bill passed the Senate, but was killed in a House committee. Vehle says he's introducing a similar bill this year.

I have mixed feelings about a ban on texting on driving. 

There's absolutely no question that texting while driving is dangerous. Texting drivers generally take their eyes off the road for five seconds or more. That means a texting driver traveling at 55mph would drive the length of a football field without looking at the road. Research has also shown that text messaging while driving makes a crash up to 23 times more likely.

It appears that a ban on texting while driving would improve public safety. Or would it?

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says several studies have shown that the bans do not result in fewer accidents. They found that bans, in some cases, actually resulted in more crashes. 

Researchers discovered texting drivers were holding their phones down to avoid being caught. Therefore, they wound up taking their eyes even further off the road and for a longer period of time.

Some proponents say that simply passing a texting ban is enough to change the culture. They say most people will respect and obey new texting laws.

However, researchers haven't found that to be true. Quite the opposite. The reason texting bans don't reduce crashes is because most drivers, especially younger ones, do not comply with them. So much for the Pollyannish notion that drivers don't wish to break the law.

And enforcement is difficult. Sioux Falls Police only cited 25 drivers in the first year of the city's texting ban. The lack of enforcement only emboldens texters to keep on with their dangerous habit.

There's just not much evidence to support that texting bans protect the public. Few drivers comply with the bans and police have a hard time catching the violaters.

A ban on texting while driving may not make roads safer, but its certain to do one thing. It will create the false impression that lawmakers are doing something meaningful to combat the problem.

Greg Belfrage is heard mornings 6am-9am on KELO Newstalk 1320 AM / 107.9 FM. Greg can be contacted at greg.belfrage@mwcradio.com. You can also follow him on Twitter.