In 2006, North Carolina passed a cellphone ban for teenage drivers (under 18 years of age) hoping to reduce usage and accidents among young drivers while they were still learning to drive.
Recently, the Highway Safety Research Center at UNC-Chapel Hill said it hasn’t worked.
They watched 5,000 teen drivers leaving high school parking lots before the ban became law and continued observing for two years after.
While cellphone use decreased slightly (from 11% to 9.7%), texting increased 40%, and Arthur Goodwin, a senior research associate at the Center told the Raleigh News and Observer the number is probably greater today. (Delays in publishing academic papers slowed presentation of the findings.)
State Senator Stan Bingham, a sponsor of the ban, told the newspaper, “We’ve passed a law that’s impossible to enforce. This study will be used to aid future legislation.”
One of the problems is when a law enforcement officer sees a young driver talking on the phone while driving, they don’t know if they are 17-years-old (illegal) or 18-years-old (legal).
There were only 22 cellphone tickets issued by the Highway Patrol to underage drivers in 2011, the paper said.
Teens know it is dangerous to talk or text on a cellphone while driving but every survey and study shows they will do it anyway. It’s teen rebellion meshing with the social media culture teenagers today have grown up with.
The bottom line is scary. Young drivers – whose number one cause of death is traffic crashes – aren’t going to be deterred by a soft law. Even a stiff law – say a month in jail, loss of license for three months, up to $5,000 fine – may not work.
Until such behavior becomes socially unacceptable, like drinking and driving which has declined among young 20-somethings, cellphone use while driving will continue to claim young lives.