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Do texting-and-driving bans help stop car accidents?

Most people now agree that distracted driving is dangerous, but not everyone agrees about what to do about it. Most state legislatures, including Pennsylvania’s, have tried passing bans on some forms of distracted driving. But are these laws making streets and highways safer?

Pennsylvania has prohibited texting and driving, as has 45 other states, the District of Columbia and several U.S. territories. Just 14 states have prohibited all handheld cellphone use by motorists, including New York, New Jersey and Delaware.

Pennsylvania’s anti-texting and driving law has been in effect for about three and a half years now. It may still be too soon to tell if it is having an effect on residents’ driving habits, but some early numbers may be suggestive.

In the first 12 months of the ban, police in Pennsylvania issued 1,302 tickets for texting and driving. Over the next year, they wrote 1,206. Surely, these tickets represent a small fraction of the number of texting and driving incidents on Pennsylvania roads over those two years, but it’s a start.

The fact that the number of tickets went down slightly in year two raises some questions. Did drivers, worried about paying a fine, become more likely to put their cellphones away until they reach their destination? Or have they just become craftier about hiding their reckless behavior from nearby officers?

Spotting a driver who is texting is not as easy as seeing one who is talking on the phone. Some observers say this is evidence that an overall ban on handheld cellphone use is more effective in preventing serious car crashes.

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