October 4, 2010 8:45 AM, EDT

LaHood Blasts Insurance Group that Claims Texting Bans Are Ineffective

By Sean McNally, Senior Reporter

This story appears in the Oct. 4 print edition of Transport Topics.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety drew an angry rebuke from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood over a study the group released that showed no relation between texting bans and fewer car crashes.

In a study by the group’s research arm, the Highway Loss Data Institute, IIHS said that in three of the four states it surveyed, the number of crashes rose after states implemented laws banning texting.

“Texting bans haven’t reduced crashes at all,” IIHS President Adrian Lund said in a Sept. 28 statement. “In a perverse twist, crashes increased in three of the four states we studied . . . it’s an indication that texting bans might even increase the risk of texting for drivers who continue to do so despite the laws.”

LaHood, who has made distracted driving — and specifically enacting texting bans nationwide — a centerpiece of his transportation policy, blasted the report as “completely misleading.”

“Distracted-driving-related crashes killed nearly 5,500 people in 2009 and injured almost half a million more. Lives are at stake, and all the reputable research we have says that tough laws, good enforcement and increased public awareness will help put a stop to the deadly epidemic of distracted driving on our roads,” he said.

LaHood cited pilot studies in New York and Connecticut that showed cell-phone use while driving dropped between 38% and 56%, and texting while driving fell between 42% and 68%.

“Tough laws are the first step and enforcement must be next,” he said.

IIHS spokeswoman Anne Fleming defended the study. “We don’t have the quibble with the secretary of transportation that he seems to have with us,” she said.

“We believe his findings that observed that texting has been reduced where enforcement has been stepped up, but bottom line is that it is not having an effect on crashes, and crashes are what we’re after,” Fleming said.

Fleming said IIHS agreed that texting is a hazard, but the group wanted to look at the broader issue.

“We want to look at what works and what doesn’t work, and we’re not seeing an effect from these bans, and we want to scratch our heads and think harder,” she said.