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In-vehicle texting drops following ban, according to new study

LOS ANGELES — California’s 2009 ban on in-vehicle text messaging appears to have influenced driver behavior, according to a series of on-the-street surveys by the Automobile Club of Southern California.

Results indicate that in-vehicle text messaging has declined significantly in the seven months after the law went into effect on January 1.

The decline indicates that a state text messaging ban can potentially change driving behavior of motorists, reduce distracted driving and improve safety, according to the Auto Club.

The study is the first to examine the effects of California’s texting law and the only study conducted on a texting ban anywhere in the US.

The Auto Club has tracked texting and in-vehicle cell phone use since June 2008 as part of a larger examination of driving distraction.

The study was conducted using systematic random samples of a total of 16,500 vehicles passing seven roadside sites in Orange County.

Conducted during five time periods – June, July and October 2008 (pre-ban) and May and July 2009 (post-ban) – vehicles were observed at varying times of day (late morning, early afternoon, evening commutes) and on varying roadways (freeway entrances and exits and urban, suburban and small city roadways) to provide an overall look at in-vehicle texting.

Three Auto Club surveys conducted prior to the texting ban taking effect showed that about 1.4 percent of drivers were texting while driving. The two post-law surveys showed that level had dropped substantially – to about 0.4 percent – a decline of about 70 percent overall.

“We’re pleased but a bit surprised by the size of the reduction in the texting and driving that we’ve seen so far,” said Steven Bloch, PhD, the Auto Club’s senior traffic researcher.

Texting has become a popular activity. According to wireless industry trade association CTIA, the number of monthly texting messages reached 110 billion at the end of 2008, up more than 11 times compared to three years earlier.

Studies also have shown the activity to be far more dangerous than other risky driving behaviors since drivers’ hands are off the steering wheel and eyes are off the road.

Through August, the California Highway Patrol issued 1,061 texting tickets statewide. Texting can be difficult to cite since it’s a challenge for officers to see motorists inside vehicles with their hands thumb-typing below the dashboard.

California was the sixth state to ban texting while driving.


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