CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - A new study is backing a proposal by the province of Alberta to ban cellphone use in cars, finding that keeping drivers' attention on the road not only saves lives it also saves far more money than the cost of enforcing the ban.
The study, published this month in the journal Health Economics, looked at the cost-effectiveness of the proposed in-car cellphone ban in the western Canadian province. It concluded it could save the province C$140 million ($136 million), cut the annual number of collisions by 4,450 and result in 15 fewer traffic-related deaths each year.
The study assumed that only 30 percent of drivers would comply with a ban, but even with less than a third of drivers obeying the law, the benefits would still be significant, one of the study's three co-authors said on Wednesday.
"We looked at the costs of implementing a ban, just in Alberta, on hands-free and hand-held (cellphones)" said Dr. Alan Shiell of the University of Calgary's Population Health Intervention Research Center, one of the study's co-authors. "Even with low compliance, a ban reduces the number of injuries and saves lives."
Legislation to ban the use of cellphones and other electronic devices while driving is being considered by the Alberta government.
At least 50 countries, 17 U.S. states and six other Canadian provinces have already banned cellphone use while driving on public health grounds, but without much sense of the cost-effectiveness of such a move, the study said.
In Alberta, the study estimated that the costs of enforcing the ban would be C$20.5 million a year, using 2004 dollars.
Shiell said three other studies on cellphone bans had concluded they were not a cost-effective way of promoting health. However, he said that those previous works all assumed random compliance by drivers, and that important business calls were as likely to be deterred by the law as mundane one, which his study assumed was unlikely.
"What's more plausible is that if you are driving and want to make a phone call that you know is illegal, if the call is valuable to you you'll take the risk," he said. "What a law would do is deter low-value calls."
If high-value calls were also ignored, the costs of the ban would rise because the business that would have been done on the call would be lost or deferred.
Reporting by Scott Haggett; editing by Rob Wilson