A new University of Illinois study has found that bans on handheld cell phones are effective, but only in urban areas. The researchers came to this conclusion by studying New York State in the years prior to and after its 2001 ban on handheld cell phones. The result was that cell phone bans resulted in decreased accident rates in urban areas, which is good news. However, the more surprising results were that in cell phone bans actually correlated with higher accident rates than expected in very rural areas.
The researchers conducted the study by examining long-term accidents rates and their association with bans on cell phones, using seven years of data from New York and comparing that data with Pennsylvania, which has no ban. The researchers used these two states because they have similar weather and wide diversity in population density of their counties. This study is one of the longest-term analysis of such statistics ever published. To figure out how cell phone bans affect different areas of the states, the researchers divided counties into urban, rural, or very rural by looking at the number of licensed drivers per mile of roadway. Then they analyzed the accident rates among those categories. What they discovered was that after the ban, there was an initial rise in the number of accidents in all three types of areas, followed by varying results in each of the types of counties. In urban areas, for example, there was a steady decrease in the amount of personal injury accidents over a seven year period, while conversely there was an increase in accident rates in very rural areas over the same time.
The leader of the study, Sheldon H. Jacobson, a professor of computer science and mathematics at the University of Illinois, has a recommendation for drivers. He says, “the main idea [for drivers] is to use the eye test when it comes to cell phone use.” The eye test is, “[i]f you look around and it’s busy, it’s a good idea to put the cell phone down and not use it.” The results of this study impact Chicago drivers because they show that a handheld cell phone ban in the city is likely to decrease accident rates. Currently, Chicago drivers are prohibited from using handheld cell phones, and text messaging is also prohibited according to Hands Free Info.com, which reports on the cell phone restrictions in all 50 states. This is good news for Chicago drivers, as the current ban is likely to decrease accidents in our city. That said, the Illinois General Assembly website details a pending House Bill that would prohibit the use of handheld devices throughout the state.