Cell Phone Use While Driving

Cell phones and cars. Let’s start with the easy stuff—texting while driving. Don’t! Seriously don’t. And teach your teenagers to not do it either. They’re struggling enough just driving. Let’s not add another level of distraction.

Texting while driving increases your chances of crashing more than 20 times over non-distracted driving. Meanwhile, using a cell phone, which doesn’t involve as many glances away from the roadway, ups your chances of crashing by four to six times, which is comparable to intoxicated driving.15


What about talking on the phone while driving? Let’s face it—everyone’s driving is diminished by cell phone usage. You might assume that’s because of the need to occupy one hand with the cell phone, and that the problem is mitigated by a hands-free set. Some studies suggest no difference in the accident statistics between drivers using hand-held cell phones compared to those using a hands-free cell phone device. The heart of the issue appears to be that cell phone usage creates a mental distraction, independent of how many hands are available.

Research debunks the claims that talking on a cell phone is no worse than talking to a passenger and that handsfree phones eliminate the distractions. First, a passenger is a second set of eyes that can look for hazards, and he or she can stop talking at busy intersections.  Second, telephone conversations usually are more intense than a typical in-vehicle talk. People who talk on the phone often are dealing with planning business meetings, discussing contracts and setting up business details.16


Studies have attempted to measure the magnitude of the distraction created by cell phone usage while driving. The closest analogy researchers have found is drunk driving.

The data presented in this article are consistent with this estimate and indicate that when driving conditions and time on task are controlled for, the impairments associated with using a cell phone while driving can be as profound as those associated with driving with a blood alcohol level at 0.08%. With respect to cell phone use, clearly the safest course of action is to not use a cell phone while driving.17


While everyone’s driving performance is impaired by the use of mobile devices, less experienced drivers (aka, teenagers) are at the greatest risk. They are also the most addicted to cell phones and text messaging. That’s a potentially deadly combination.

According to DOT, nearly 5,500 people in the U.S. were killed and almost half a million were injured in accidents related to distracted driving in 2009. Of those fatal accidents, 18% involved the use of a cell phone.18


A study in Japan looked at accidents involving cell phones and identified the specific cell phone activity the individual was engaged in at the time of the accident. 42% of the drivers were responding to a call, and 32% were dialing, both of which involve taking one’s eyes off the road. 16% were talking and 5% were hanging up.19

15 “Don’t Text, or Drink, behind the Wheel,” Industrial Engineer 42, no. 5 (2010): 14.
16 Ibid.
17 David L. Strayer, Frank A. Drews, and Dennis J. Crouch, “A Comparison of the Cell Phone Driver and the Drunk Driver,” Human Factors 48, no. 2 (2006): 390.
18 “DOT & Consumer Reports Fight Distracted Driving,” Professional Safety 56, no. 4 (2011): 25.
19 Nina Dragutinovic and Divera Twisk, “Use of mobile phones while driving – effects on road safety.” SWOV Institute for Road Safety Research, The Netherlands, (2005).

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