Curbing or banning the use of mobile phones and other handheld devices reduces motorcycle fatality rates. In other words, laws banning or restricting drivers’ use of mobile phones save many motorcyclists’ lives. Researchers from Florida Atlantic University and the University of Miami carried out a study on US laws banning or curbing mobile phone usage while driving.
Michael T. French and Gulcin Gumus wrote about their study and findings in the journal Social Science Medicine (citation below).
Gumus is an Associate Professor of Health Administration in the Department of Management Programs at Florida Atlantic University’s College of Business. French is a Professor of Health Economics at the University of Miami’s Business School’s Department of Health Management and Policy. Prof. French is an avid motorcyclist.
Comparing motorcycle fatality rates in US states
The authors found that motorcycle fatality rates in states with moderate-to-strict bans were up to 11% lower than in states with no bans.
Prof. Gumus said:
“In the case of motorcycles, these laws seem to be effective. While it’s not clear that these laws have had an impact on reducing the overall number of traffic fatalities, when we focus specifically on motorcycles, we find that these laws are having a major impact in reducing deaths among motorcycle riders.”
Motorcyclists represent a much greater percentage of traffic fatalities relative to the total share of motorbikes among all vehicles and vehicle-miles driven in the United States.
The authors gathered and analyzed data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). They focused on motorcycle fatality rates for all fifty states from 2005 to 2015.
They merged those data with state-specific features, laws related to texting/handheld devices, and other traffic policies. The researchers then estimated how effective strict, moderate, and weak bans were compared to states with no bans at all.
Automobile and motorcycle fatality rates
Over the past few decades, automobile safety has improved considerably, the researchers found. Motorcycle fatality rates, on the other hand, have not fallen.
Even though research is mixed regarding how effective bans are on overall traffic deaths, the study found that motorcyclists benefit significantly from these policies. The authors believe this is partly because their risk of becoming victims due to distracted driving is greater.
The main drivers of this result are multiple-vehicle rather than single-vehicle collisions. A car hitting a motorbike, for example, is a multiple-vehicle crash. One motorbike hitting a tree or one car hitting a tree are single-vehicle collisions.
Distracted driving can cause injury and death
Regarding deaths and injuries resulting from distracted drivers, Prof. French said:
“Every day about nine Americans are killed, and more than 1,000 are injured in traffic crashes that involve distracted drivers.”
“While our initial goal was to understand whether these laws save lives on the road, the broader application of our findings is even more powerful.”
Policy makers should make their texting/handheld laws stricter. They should also encourage the proper enforcement of these laws to improve safety and save human lives, especially those of motorcyclists.
Prof. French added that we now have a better appreciation for the range of policies across states and over the last few years. We also have a better understanding of what makes texting/handheld bans and restrictions strong and effective, especially regarding motorcycle death rates.
Prof. French concluded:
“Hopefully these results will facilitate a more informed discussion between legislators, law enforcement officers, and the general public about distracted driving and traffic safety.”
Using a mobile phone when walking
Not only is it dangerous to use your mobile phone when driving, but also when you are a pedestrian. Especially when you are crossing the road.
In 2016, ground level traffic lights were introduced at some crossings in Australia. Local authorities wanted to determine whether lower traffic lights would reduce the number of phone addicts hit by vehicles.
“Watch for motorcycles! The effects of texting and handheld bans on motorcyclist fatalities,” Michael T.Frencha and Gulcin Gumus. Social Science & Medicine, Volume 216, November 2018, Pages 81-87. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2018.09.032.