• BREAKING NEWS ABC shows live and on-demand -- Download the WATCH ABC app!

Calif cell phone law not reducing car accidents

January 29, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
A new study finds that the state law banning handheld mobile-phone use behind the wheel is not reducing the number of accidents.It's been a year and a half since California's hands-free law went into effect. Many people are ignoring it. A new study suggests that driving and using a handheld phone may not be that dangerous -- it's the opposite in most other states.

A new study by the Highway Loss Data Institute shows bans prohibiting handheld mobile-phone use while driving don't reduce the number of crashes. Collision claims in California were no different than in surrounding states that don't have the hands-free mandate.

"We don't have any evidence that cell phone laws are going to have much effect on highway safety," said Russ Rader, Highway Loss Data Institute director of media relations.

The study may gain attention because the researchers are affiliated with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a respected organization.

Since the hands-free law went into effect 18 months ago, the California Highway Patrol has issued more than 231,000 tickets.

CHP officials dispute the study, saying crashes and traffic fatalities have gone down in the first six months alone.

"When folks are distracted and they're not paying attention to their driving, they're putting themselves at risk and other motorists in the state of California," said CHP Officer Adrian Quintero.

Keith James has a Bluetooth and knows personally how a handheld phone behind the wheel can be dangerous.

"I had a niece involved in an accident with someone using their handset to their ear," said James. "So I definitely think using the Bluetooth is beneficial."

Despite the new findings, the author of California's hands-free driving law is considering getting even tougher.

Calif. State Senator Joe Simitian is looking at tripling the fine or making it a moving violation that adds a point to your driving record. He's even thinking of extending to people riding bicycles.

Allen Gong, who has gotten a ticket for a mobile phone violation, thinks that's the wrong way to go.

"I feel like it's an infringement on my rights," said Gong. "If they make it a moving violation, if it affects my insurance, they're going too far with that. You can say the radio is too loud and what? We're going to get a ticket for that too now?"

Researchers from the new study say if states really want to make a dent in crashes, they should target all activities that distract driving.