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Banning cell phones: Impulse shopping in the House


On January 1, 2010, New Hampshire’s ban on texting while driving took effect. By the end of the year, there had been 128 traffic fatalities in the state. In 2009, there had been 110 traffic fatalities. We banned texting while driving and wound up with 18 more deaths. Lawmakers do not seem to have noticed the numbers.

On Wednesday, the House voted 192-133 to ban all cell phone use by drivers, even when vehicles are stopped or stuck in traffic. One of the driving forces behind the bill was last year’s traffic fatality total — 133, a five-year high. Fatalities fell to 90 in 2011 and 108 in 2012, but last year they rose to their highest level since 2008 despite the texting ban.

Supporters of the new ban said that 28 percent of New Hampshire’s traffic fatalities are related to distracted driving. But that is a State Police estimate, not a firm number. Drug use (including alcohol) still appears to account for more than a third of all fatalities. And we already ban distracted driving in general and texting while driving in particular. What makes representatives think that yet another ban will finally work?

It cannot be the studies. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, “Bans on hand-held phone use and texting are increasingly common, but there is no evidence that they reduce crashes.” There is no question that cell phone use by drivers increases crashes. But the jury is still out on the effectiveness of cell phone bans.

Banning cell phone use while stopped in traffic certainly will not reduce fatalities. But the New Hampshire House is filled with too many people who are guided more by an impulse to help than by their capacity to reason through the logic of their intended assistance.

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