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Cell Phone Crash StatsNotes From The Road

Cell Phone Crash Stats – New study shows a four-fold increase in accidents while driving and talking on a cell phone.
By Cathy Nikkel/autoMedia.com

Talking on a cell phone while driving can quadruple your chances of a crash ending with a hospital visit, according to a new study released by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS).

The statistic is an equal opportunity warning. The same statistics apply to women, men, young or old, hands-free or hand held cell phone users. The study, entitled the "Role of cellular phones in motor vehicle crashes resulting in hospital attendance" by S. McEvoy, et. al., is published in the British Medical Journal, available at www.bmj.com.

Case Study
IIHS researchers chose Perth, Australia, for the study since cell phone records were available there to the researchers, and were not in the U.S. Perth is also a city that bans the use of hand held cell phones while driving. The study covered a period from April 2002 to July 2004. Subjects were drivers treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries suffered in auto crashes.

Weather had little to do with the results, since almost 75 percent of the crashes occurred in clear conditions. Eighty-nine percent of the crashes involved other vehicles and more than half of the injured drivers reported that their crashes occurred within 10 minutes of the start of the trip. Even though Perth bans hand held cell phones, one third of the study's subjects reported they were using hand held phones. However, injury crash risk didn't differ from one type of reported phone use to the other.

"This isn't intuitive," said Anne McCartt Institute vice president for research and an author of the study. “You'd think using a hands-free phone would be less distracting, so it wouldn't increase crash risk as much as using a hand held phone. But we found that either phone type increased the risk.  This could be because the so-called hands-free phones that are in common use today aren't really hands-free. We didn't have sufficient data to compare the different types of hands-free phones, such as those that are fully voice activated."

The results of the study are based on the experience of 500 drivers and are consistent with a 1997 study done in Canada that also used cell phone billing records to uncover increased accident risk from cell phone use. That study also showed a four-fold increase in the risk of an injury crash. Previous studies on the hazards of cell phones and driving relied on simulated driving situations or were very small in scope. This is the first large study of the on-the-road consequences of mixing cell phones and steering wheels.

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