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Directions in Highway Safety, Summer 2008 Cover Page Download Newsletter pdf
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Summer 2008 | Vol. 10 | No. 4

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IIHS Study Finds North Carolina Teens Ignore Cell Phone Ban

A new Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) study of cell phone use among young drivers in North Carolina found that teens are chatting while driving more than ever, despite the introduction of a new law banning cell phone use by teen drivers. While most parents and teens expressed support of the restriction, observed cell phone use by teen drivers actually increased after the ban-from 11 percent to two months before the law to 12 percent five months after it took effect on Dec. 1, 2006.

North Carolina is among 17 states and the District of Columbia that prohibit all cell phone use (both hand-held and hands-free) by young novice drivers. These restrictions are becoming more and more common and are often packaged into a state's graduated driver licensing system for beginning drivers.

Education and enforcement challenges were two factors that contributed to the high teen driver cell phone usage rate observed in North Carolina. After the law took effect, about two-thirds of teens, but only 39 percent of parents, reported they were aware of the ban.

Age-based cellphone bans are also notoriously difficult to enforce-it is difficult for law enforcement to spot hands-free devices or guess how old drivers are. IIHS's Anne McCartt notes that "passage of a law is just a first step. The restrictions need to be wellpublicized and enforcement should be highly visible."


Parents play a big role in influencing compliance with graduated driver licensing restrictions such as nighttime driving or limitations on the number of passengers. However, phones present a challenge: parents who want their teens to carry them may find it tough to enforce rules about when to talk.

For a copy of the study, "Short-term effects of a teenage driver cellphone restriction" by R.D. Foss et. al., contact IIHS at 105 N. Glebe Rd., Arlington, VA 22201, or email