Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Has Idaho’s Texting while Driving law had any effect so far?

On July 17th Wayne Hoffman, president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, blogged that Government meddling hasn’t stopped texting behind the wheel, despite a 2012 state law banning it. He said that:

“The state Transportation Department has historically kept track of the number of accidents caused by distracted driving—generally defined as crashes in which the driver takes his or her eyes or mind off the task of driving, or doesn’t keep control of the wheel. The department didn’t track the ‘why’ behind distracted driving until 2012, the same year lawmakers decided to regulate texting while driving.  And even still, the department does not distinguish between an accident caused by texting or talking on the phone. The department merely notes that an ‘electronic device’ was a contributing factor.

For several years, the number of automobile accidents has been dropping, without the need for new laws to ban texting or anything else for that matter. By 2012, there were 4,890 distracted driving crashes in Idaho. That number has stayed relatively constant since then, dropping to 4,757 in 2013 and going up to 4,781 in 2014. In 2012, 24 percent of distracted driving accidents were blamed on electronic devices. In 2013, 23 percent of these crashes were attributed to electronic devices. Last year, the percentage of accidents blamed on electronics went up to 27 percent.

In short, the law isn’t incredibly effective, at least as far as the data is concerned, a point reiterated this week by House Transportation Chairman Joe Palmer of Meridian.

‘It’s not doing anything,’ Palmer told IdahoReporter.com Thursday. ‘It has no effect.’ ”

Wayne also added that:

“....The other interesting thing gleaned from the data is that while electronic devices got a lot of attention from legislators and Nanny Government aficionados a few years ago, something else entirely gets blamed on in more than a third of distracted driving accidents year after year after year: passengers.

According to data from the Idaho Transportation Department, passengers contribute to around 36 percent of all this distracted driving crashes in the state, well more than the percentage of accidents caused by electronic devices.

Strangely, however, Idaho lawmakers haven’t been pursuing legislation to ban additional travelers from vehicles on Idaho’s roadways. At least not yet.”

On July 17th their sister web site Idaho Reporter.com also had an article by Dustin Hurst titled Devices caused even more crashes on Idaho roads in anti-texting law’s third year that quoted the same 24, 23, and 27% as having been noted by House committee chair Joe Palmer.

I was curious about whether the law really had no effect, so I looked up the Statistical Information page at the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) web site, which led me to their data pages about Distracted Driving for 2012, 2013, and 2014. Mr. Hoffman and Mr. Palmer are only half right. The following table shows the results (from the pie charts in Figure 16) that they quoted about electronic communication devices, which do not show a clear decrease.

But, those ITD results also show another pie chart for fatal crashes in Figure 15. In 2012, 40 percent of fatal distracted driving accidents were blamed on electronic devices. In 2013, 33 percent of these crashes were blamed on electronic devices, and last year it went down to just 22 percent. Ignoring this data is cherry picking, and it is reprehensible. See the following table for more.

Also note that Mr. Hoffman is just plain wrong about what Figure 16 says regarding passengers. The 36% (or 35%) he mentioned really is for Other Inside Vehicle. For Passenger it’s just 14%. Perhaps he needs a refresher course in how to read a pie chart.

What’s the biggest type of problem? Is it Impaired Driving, Distracted Driving, or Aggressive Driving? The following table shows that it really is Aggressive Driving.

Just how bad is it? The following table shows how many traffic fatalities and serious injuries there were over the past five years for six categories of Aggressive Driving. These categories aren’t “rocket science” - any competent driver should be able to reduce or avoid them completely. We should be asking what ITD can do to change driver behavior rather than whining about the anti-texting law allegedly being worthless.

UPDATE August 5, 2015

Mr. Hoffman also published that article in the Idaho Press Tribune on July 20, 2015. I discussed it in a letter to the editor that was published today.

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