NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Cell Phone Bans: Costly And Counter- productive

November 15, 2000

Regulations on the use of cell phones are in place in other countries. Using a cell phone while driving is banned in Australia, Canada, England, Brazil and a couple U.S. cities. While these bans are in place for safety considerations, a study by the American Enterprise Institute and Brookings Institution finds that the costs incurred by these regulations far outweigh the benefits.

The study finds that:

  • The costs to business and households of not being able to call from a car are about $24 billion, over $200 per household.
  • Other costs are not quantified -- including not being able to use a cell phone to report a crime or automobile accident.
  • The benefits from the ban are about 10,000 serious accidents avoided and 100 traffic fatalities -- less than one percent of the annual total -- for an estimated total dollar benefit of about $1 billion.

The study concludes that cell phone bans are simply too expensive. It goes on to note that:

  • Tuning the radio, drinking coffee, scolding children can be as equally dangerous and may cause about 4,000 traffic fatalities, but are not banned.
  • Requiring people to pull over to make a phone call may cause more traffic accidents than simply using a cell phone in the car.
  • There is no evidence that hands-free devices, such as headsets, reduce accidents with cell phones and so they should not be required.

The study argues that until we know more about the causes of traffic accidents, the government should not regulate the industry.

Source: Robert W. Hahn and Paul C. Tetlock, "Driving and Talking Do Mix," Policy Matters No. 99-5, AEI-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies, November 1999.


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