A new study has found that driver distraction laws have greatly reduced motorcycle deaths, raising the question whether the people on bicycles are also safer.
The study's findings, recently published in Social Science & Medicine, show that American states with moderate to strong bans on mobile use in vehicles have motorcycle fatality rates that differ by as much as 11 percent compared to states with no bans.
Laws to ban or curb drivers' use of cell phones and other handheld devices have greatly reduced the rate of fatalities for motorcyclists, according to a new study by faculty at and the University of Miami.
"In the case of motorcycles, these laws seem to be effective," said study co-author Gulcin Gumus, Ph.D., an associate professor in health administration at Florida Atlantic University.
"While it's not clear that these laws have had an impact on reducing the overall number of traffic fatalities, when we focus specifically on motorcycles, we find that these laws are having a major impact in reducing deaths among motorcycle riders."
Motorcyclists account for a much higher proportion of traffic fatalities relative to the share of motorcycles among all motor vehicles and vehicle miles driven in the U.S.
While automobile safety has greatly improved over the last several decades, bringing the overall fatality rates down with it, motorcycle fatality rates have not declined.
The study's findings indicate that motorcyclists are at elevated risk of being a victim of distracted driving and thus could greatly benefit from these policies. This result is driven mainly by multiple-vehicle crashes (e.g., car hitting motorcycle) as opposed to single-vehicle crashes.
"Every day about nine Americans are killed and more than 1,000 are injured in traffic crashes that involve distracted drivers," said study co-author Michael T. French, at University of Miami.
"While our initial goal was to understand whether these laws save lives on the road, the broader application of our findings is even more powerful."
The researchers argue policy makers should consider strengthening texting/handheld bans along with their enforcement to improve safety and save lives, especially among motorcyclists.
"We have a better appreciation for the range of policies across states and years, and what makes texting/handheld bans strong and effective, especially for motorcyclists," French said.
"Hopefully these results will facilitate a more informed discussion between legislators, law enforcement officers, and the general public about distracted driving and traffic safety.”
Alarmingly, our recent distracted drivers survey found that one in four bike riders believe driver distraction caused a crash they were involved in.