Mobile phones and driving safety: Wikis


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This driver is juggling two phones at once

Mobile phone use while driving is common but controversial. Because of this, some jurisdictions have made the use of a cell phone while driving illegal. Others have enacted laws to ban handheld mobile phone use, but allow use of a handsfree device. In some cases restrictions are only directed to minors or those who are immediate license holders.


Raw Data

Fatal Crashes vs. Cell Phone Subscribers from 1994 to 2008[1]

Year All Crashes
Fatal Crashes
Cell Phone
1980 17,900,000 53,200 no data
1985 no data no data 203,600
1990 11,500,000 46,800 4,368,686
1994 no data 36,254 19,283,306
1995 10,700,000 37,241 28,154,414
1996 no data 37,494 38,195,466
1997 no data 37,324 48,705,553
1998 no data 37,107 60,831,431
1999 no data 37,140 76,284,753
2000 13,400,000 37,526 97,035,925
2001 no data 37,862 118,397,734
2002 no data 38,491 134,561,370
2003 11,800,000 38,477 148,065,824
2004 10,900,000 38,444 169,467,393
2005 10,700,000 39,252 194,479,364
2006 10,400,000 38,648 219,652,457
2007 10,600,000 37,435 243,482,202
2008 no data 34,017 262,720,165
2009 no data no data no data
2010 no data no data no data
%(+/-) 0.9% Decrease* 6.2% Decrease 1,262.4% Increase

* 0.9 Decrease from 1995 to 2007

Increased risk

A more traditional study method was used by the Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ) for their 2003 study. Questionnaires were sent to 175,000 drivers and analysis was done on the 36,078 who responded. The questionnaire asked about driving habits, risk exposure, collisions over the past 24 months, socio-demographic information, and cell phone use. Questionnaires were supported with data from cell phone companies and police crash records. The study found that the overall relative risk (RR) of having an accident for cell phone users when compared to non-cell phone users averaged 1.38 across all groups. When adjusted for kilometers driven per year and other crash risk exposures, RR was 1.11 for men and 1.21 for women. They also found that increased cell phone use correlated with an increase in RR. When the same data were reanalyzed using a Bayesian approach, the calculated RR of 0.78 for those making less than 1 call/day and 2.27 for those with more than 7 calls/day was similar to cohort analysis. When the data were reanalyzed using case-crossover analysis, RR was calculated at a much higher 5.13. The authors expressed concern that misclassification of phone calls due to reporting errors of the exact time of the collisions was a major source of bias with all case-crossover analysis of this issue.[5][6][7]


Simulation studies versus alcohol

Means and standard errors (in parentheses) for the Alcohol, Base line, and Cell-Phone conditions
Alcohol Base line Cell Phone
Total Accidents 0 [0] 0 [2] 3 [10]
Brake Onset Time (msec) 888 (51) 943 (58) 1022 (61)
Braking Force (% of maximum) 69.6 (3.6) 56.4 (2.5) 55.2 (2.9)
Speed (MPH) 52.8 (.08) 54.9 (.08) 53.2 (.07)
Following Distance (meters) 26.5 (1.7) 27.3 (1.3) 28.5 (1.6)
½ Recovery Time 5.4 (0.3) 5.4 (0.3) 6.2 (0.4)

A 2003 study by University of Utah Psychology department measured response time, following distance, and driving speed of a control group, subjects at the legal BAC limit of 0.08%, and subjects involved in cell phone conversations. Data from the report are listed to the right.

It should be noted that the data of this study was adjusted to reflect socially accepted results. As the study notes; "... this is the third in a series of studies that we have conducted evaluating the effects of cell phone use on driving using the carfollowing procedure (see also Strayer & Drews, 2004; and Strayer et al., 2003). Across these three studies, 120 participants performed in both baseline and cell phone conditions. Two of the participants in our studies were involved in an accident in baseline conditions, whereas 10 participants were involved in an accident when they were conversing on a cell phone." However zero (0) drunk drivers had accidents in any of the tests. When results of this study are taken at face value it suggests that it is actually safer to drive drunk than sober.

From the report:

  • Forty adults (25 men, 15 women), recruited via advertisements in local newspapers, participated in the Institutional Review Board approved study.
  • Of the 40 participants, 78% owned a cell phone, and 87% of the cell phone owners reported that they have used a cell phone while driving.
  • The experiment lasted approximately 10 hr (across the three days of the study)
  • A PatrolSim high-fidelity driving simulator, ... manufactured by GEISIM, was used in the study.
  • The cell phone was manufactured by LG Electronics Inc. (Model TP1100). For hands-free conditions, a Plantronics M135 headset (with earpiece and boom microphone) was attached to the cell phone.
  • ... the participant’s task was to follow the intermittently braking pace car driving in the right-hand lane of the highway.
  • Initially both the participant’s car and the pace car were driving at about 62 miles/hr (mph) with a following distance of 40 m
  • In the alcohol session, participants drank a mixture of orange juice and vodka (40% alcohol by volume) calculated to achieve a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% wt/vol.
  • Participants drove in the 15-min car-following scenario while legally intoxicated. Average blood alcohol concentration before driving was 0.081% wt/vol and after driving was 0.078% wt/vol.
  • In the cell phone session, three counterbalanced conditions, each 15 min in duration, were included: single-task baseline driving, driving while conversing on a handheld cell phone, and driving while conversing on a hands-free cell phone.
  • In both cell phone conditions, the participant and a research assistant engaged in naturalistic conversations
  • We used a multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) followed by planned contrasts to provide an overall assessment of driver performance in each of the experimental conditions.
  • We performed an initial comparison of participants driving while using a handheld cell phone versus a hands-free cell phone. Both handheld and hands-free cell phone conversations impaired driving. However, there were no significant differences in the impairments caused by these two modes of cellular communication
  • Drivers in the cell-phone condition exhibited a sluggish behavior (i.e., slower reactions) which they attempted to compensate for by increasing their following distance. Drivers in the alcohol condition exhibited a more aggressive driving style, in which they followed closer, necessitating braking with greater force.
  • By contrast, when participants were intoxicated, neither accident rates, nor reaction time to vehicles braking in front of the participant, nor recovery of lost speed following braking differed significantly from baseline. Overall, drivers in the alcohol condition exhibited a more aggressive driving style.
  • Most importantly, our study found that accident rates in the alcohol condition did not differ from baseline; however, the increase in hard braking and the increased frequency of TTC values below 4 s are predictive of increased accident rates over the long run
  • No accidents were observed in the alcohol sessions of our study. Nevertheless, alcohol clearly increases the risk of accidents in real-world settings.
  • Two of the participants in our studies were involved in an accident in baseline conditions
  • One factor that may have contributed to the absence of accidents in the alcohol condition of our study is that the alcohol and driving portion of the study was conducted during the daytime (between 9:00 a.m. and noon).
  • We compared the cell phone driver with the drunk driver for two reasons. First, there are now clear societal norms associated with intoxicated driving, and laws in the United States expressly prohibit driving with a blood alcohol level at or above 0.08%. Logical consistency would seem to dictate that any activity that leads to impairments in driving equal to or greater than the drunk driving standard should be avoided
  • Support for this study was provided through a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration.

After controlling for driving difficulty and time on task, the study concluded that cell phone drivers exhibited greater impairment than intoxicated drivers.[8]


A 2005 review by the Hawaiian legislature entitled "Cell Phone Use and Motor Vehicle Collisions: A Review of the Studies"[9] contains an analysis of the current state of knowledge on cell phone/motor vehicle accident causality.

Meta-analysis by The Canadian Automobile Association[10] and The University of Illinois[11] found that response time while using both hands-free and hand-held phones was approximately 0.5 standard deviations higher than normal driving (i.e., an average driver, while talking on a cell phone, has response times of a driver in roughly the 40th percentile).

As a percentage of distraction-related accidents

Driver inattention is estimated to be a factor in between 20 to 50 percent of all police-reported crashes. Driver distraction, a sub-category of inattention, has been estimated to be a contributing factor in 8 to 13 percent of all crashes. Of distraction-related accidents, cell phone use may range from 1.5 to 5 percent of contributing factors.[12] However, large percentages of unknowns in each of those categories may cause inaccuracies in these estimations. A 2001 study sponsored by The American Automobile Association recorded "Unknown Driver Attention Status" for 41.5 percent of crashes, and "Unknown Distraction" in 8.6 percent of all distraction related accidents.[13] According to NHTSA, "There is clearly inadequate reporting of crashes".[14]

Currently, "Outside person, object, event" (commonly known as rubbernecking) is the most reported cause of distraction-related accidents, followed by "Adjusting radio/cassette/CD". "Using/dialing cell phone" is eighth.

Handsfree device

Hands-free car kit

Driving while using a handsfree cellular device is not safer than using a hand held cell phone, as concluded by case-crossover studies.[15][16] epidemiological,[5][6] simulation,[8] and meta-analysis[10][11]. The increased "cognitive workload" involved in holding a conversation, not the use of hands, causes the increased risk.[17][18][19] One notable exception to that conclusion is a study by headset manufacturer Plantronics, which found 71 percent of the test subjects steered more accurately, 100 percent had faster brake reaction times, and 92 percent maintained a more consistent speed when using a headset versus handheld.[20] The consistency of increased crash risk between hands-free and hand held cell phone use is at odds with legislation in many locations that prohibits hand held cell phone use but allows hands-free. Dialing a cell phone is more distracting than talking on a cell phone,[21] and hands-free devices that offer voice-dialing may reduce or eliminate that increased risk.

As compared to conversation with a passenger

The scientific literature is mixed on the dangers of talking on a cell phone versus those of talking with a passenger. The common conception is that passengers are able to better regulate conversation based on the perceived level of danger, therefore the risk is negligible. A study by a University of South Carolina psychology researcher featured in the journal, Experimental Psychology, found that planning to speak and speaking put far more demands on the brain’s resources than listening. Measurement of attention levels showed that subjects were four times more distracted while preparing to speak or speaking than when they were listening.[22] The Accident Research Unit at the University of Nottingham found that the number of utterances was usually higher for mobile calls when compared to blindfolded and non-blindfolded passengers across various driving conditions. The number of questions asked averaged slightly higher for mobile phone conversations, although results were not constant across road types and largely influenced by a large number of questions on the urban roads.[23] A 2004 University of Utah simulation study that compared passenger and cell-phone conversations concluded that the driver performs better when conversing with a passenger because the traffic and driving task become part of the conversation. Drivers holding conversations on cell phones were four times more likely to miss the highway exit than those with passengers, and drivers conversing with passengers showed no statistically significant difference from lone drivers in the simulator.[24] A study led by Andrew Parkes at the Transport Research Laboratory, also with a driving simulator, concluded that hands-free phone conversations impair driving performance more than other common in-vehicle distractions such as passenger conversations.[25]

In contrast, the University of Illinois meta-analysis concluded that passenger conversations were just as costly to driving performance as cell phone ones.[11] AAA ranks passengers as the third most reported cause of distraction-related accidents at 11 percent, compared to 1.5 percent for cellular telephones.[13] A simulation study funded by the American Transportation Research Board concluded that driving events that require urgent responses may be influenced by in-vehicle conversations, and that there is little practical evidence that passengers adjusted their conversations to changes in the traffic. It concluded that drivers' training should address the hazards of both mobile phone and passenger conversations.[26]


The scientific literature on the dangers of driving while sending a text message from a mobile phone, or driving while texting, is limited. A simulation study at the Monash University Accident Research Centre provided strong evidence that retrieving and, in particular, sending text messages has a detrimental effect on a number of safety critical driving measures. Specifically, negative effects were seen in detecting and responding correctly to road signs, detecting hazards, time spent with eyes off the road, and (only for sending text messages) lateral position. Surprisingly, mean speed, speed variability, lateral position when receiving text messages, and following distance showed no difference.[27] A separate, yet unreleased simulation study at the University of Utah found a sixfold increase in distraction-related accidents when texting.[28]

The low number of scientific studies may be indicative of a general assumption that if talking on a mobile phone increases risk, then texting also increases risk, and probably more so. 89% of U.S. adults think that text messaging while driving is "distracting, dangerous and should be outlawed."[29] The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has released polling data that show that 87% of people consider texting and e-mailing while driving a "very serious" safety threat, almost equivalent to the 90% of those polled who consider drunk driving a threat. Despite the acknowledgement of the dangers of texting behind the wheel, about half of drivers 16 to 24 say they have texted while driving, compared with 22 percent of drivers 35 to 44.[30]

Texting while driving received greater attention in the late 2000s, corresponding to a rise in the number of text messages being sent.[30] The 2008 Will Smith movie Seven Pounds deals with Smith's character committing suicide in order to donate his organs to help save the lives of seven people to make up for the seven people he killed in a car accident because he was receiving a text message while he was driving. Texting while driving attracted interest in the media after several highly publicized car crashes were caused by texting drivers, including a May 2009 incident involving a Boston trolley car driver who crashed while texting his girlfriend.[31] Texting was blamed in the 2008 Chatsworth train collision which killed 25 passengers. Investigations revealed that the engineer of that train had sent 45 text messages while operating.

On July 27, 2009, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute released preliminary findings of their study of driver distraction in commercial vehicles. Two studies, comprising about 200 long-haul trucks driving 3 million combined miles, used video cameras to observe the drivers and road; researchers observed 4,452 safety-critical events, which includes crashes, near crashes, safety-critical events, and lane deviations. 81% of the safety critical events had some type of driver distraction. Text messaging had the greatest relative risk, with drivers being 23 times more likely to experience a safety-critical event when texting. The study also found that drivers typically take their eyes off the forward roadway for an average of four out of six seconds when texting, and an average of 4.6 out of the six seconds surrounding safety-critical events.[30]


A sign along Bellaire Boulevard in Southside Place, Texas states that using mobile phones while driving is prohibited from 7:30 AM to 9:30 AM and from 2:00 PM to 4:15 PM

Accidents involving a driver being distracted by talking on a mobile phone have begun to be prosecuted as negligence similar to driving while intoxicated. In the United Kingdom, from 27 February 2007, motorists who are caught using a hand-held mobile phone while driving will have three penalty points added to their license in addition to the fine of £60.[32] This increase was introduced to try to stem the increase in drivers ignoring the law.[33] Israel, Japan, Portugal and Singapore prohibit all mobile phone use while driving, including use of hands-free devices. New Zealand bans hand held cellphone use from 1 November 2009. Many states in the United States have banned texting on cell phones while driving. Illinois became the 17th American state to enforce this law.[34]

Effectiveness of legislation

Current laws banning cell phone use in New York and Connecticut have proven to be ineffective. The percentage of offenders decreased from 2.3% to 1.1% immediately after the ban was implemented, but after being in effect for a year the percentage increased to 2.1%, which is not significantly different from the pre-ban figure. The authors of the study conclude that "vigorous enforcement campaigns accompanied by publicity appear necessary to achieve longer term compliance."[35] Many States currently have legislation pending regarding the use of cell phones. Most States also cover using cell phones in the case of accidents or other law-breaking activities while driving a vehicle in their respective traffic legislation.

A study by the Highway Loss Data Institute has found that while laws aimed against texting or making calls while driving are effective in reducing such behavior, they are not effective in reducing crashes.[36]

List of countries with bans

Hand-held and hands-free

Countries where using either a hand-held or hands-free phone while driving is illegal.

Hand-held only

Countries where using a hand-held phone while driving is illegal.


  1. ^ Fatal Crashes vs. Cell Phone Subscribers from 1994 to 2008 |
  2. ^ U.S. Census Bureau Table 1067. Motor Vehicle Accidents—Number and Deaths: 1980 to 2007 |
  3. ^ Fatality Analysis Reporting System |
  4. ^ CTIA - International Association for the Wireless Telecommunications Industry Semi-Annual Wireless Industry Survey |
  5. ^ a b Laberge-Nadeau, Claire (September 2003). "Wireless telephones and the risk of road crashes". Accident Analysis & Prevention 35 (5): 649–660. doi:10.1016/S0001-4575(02)00043-X. 
  6. ^ a b Claire Laberge-Nadeau (October 2–5, 2005) (PDF). Linking data from different sources to estimate the risk of a collision when using a cell phone while driving. Toronto, Canada. 
  7. ^ Claire Laberge-Nadeau et al. (2006) (PDF). Crash Risk and Cell Phone Use: Important Questions on the Real Risk for Legal Decision Makers. 
  8. ^ a b Strayer, David; Drews, Frank; Crouch, Dennis (2003). "FATAL DISTRACTION? A COMPARISON OF THE CELL-PHONE DRIVER AND THE DRUNK DRIVER" (PDF). 
  9. ^ Cell Phone Use and Motor Vehicle Collisions: A Review of the Studies
  10. ^ a b Jeffrey K. Caird et al. (October 25, 2004) (PDF). EFFECTS OF CELLULAR TELEPHONES ON DRIVING BEHAVIOUR AND CRASH RISK: RESULTS OF META-ANALYSIS. CAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. 
  11. ^ a b c Horrey, William; Christopher Wickens (Spring 2006). "Examining the Impact of Cell Phone Conversations on Driving Using Meta-Analytic Techniques" (PDF). Human Factors (Human Factors and Ergonomics Society) 38 (1): 196–205. 
  12. ^ Eby, David; Lidia Kostyniuk (May 2003). "Driver distraction and crashes: An assessment of crash databases and review of the literature" (PDF). The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. 
  13. ^ a b Jane C. Stutts, et al. (May 2001) (PDF). THE ROLE OF DRIVER DISTRACTION IN TRAFFIC CRASHES. AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. 
  14. ^ "An Investigation of the Safety Implications of Wireless Communications in Vehicles". National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 1997. 
  15. ^ McEvoy, Suzanne; Stevenson, MR; McCartt, AT; Woodward, M; Haworth, C; Palamara, P; Cercarelli, R (2005). "Role of mobile phones in motor vehicle crashes resulting in hospital attendance: a case-crossover study". BMJ 331 (7514): 428. doi:10.1136/bmj.38537.397512.55. PMID 16012176. PMC 1188107. 
  16. ^ Redelmeier, Donald; Tibshirani, Robert (February 1300, 1997). "ASSOCIATION BETWEEN CELLULAR-TELEPHONE CALLS AND MOTOR VEHICLE COLLISIONS" (PDF). The New England Journal of Medicine 336 (7): 453–458. doi:10.1056/NEJM199702133360701. PMID 9017937. 
  17. ^ Recarte M. A. & Nunes L. M. (2003). "Mental Workload While Driving: Effects on Visual Search, Discrimination, and Decision Making.". Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied 2 (9): 119–137. doi:10.1037/1076-898X.9.2.119. 
  18. ^ Strayer D. L., Drews F. A. & Johnston W. A. (2003). "Cell Phone-Induced Failures of Visual Attention During Simulated Driving.". Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied 1 (9): 23–32. doi:10.1037/1076-898X.9.1.23. 
  19. ^ Strayer D. L. & William J. A. (2001). "Driven to distraction: Dual-Task Studies of Simulated Driving and Conversing on a Cellular Telephone.". Psychological Science 6 (12): 462–466. doi:10.1111/1467-9280.00386. 
  20. ^ "Hands-Free Phones Safer, Study Finds". Consumer 4 August 2004. 
  21. ^ Kolko, Jed (17 July 2007) (pdf). Dialing While Fishtailing: How Mobile Phones, Hands-Free Laws, and Driving Conditions Interact to Affect Traffic Fatalities. Munich Personal RePEc Archive. 
  22. ^ Newswise: Talking Distractions: Study Shows Why Cell Phones and Driving Don't Mix
  23. ^ David Crundall, Manpreet Bains, Peter Chapman, Geoffrey Underwood (2005). "Regulating conversation during driving: a problem for mobile telephones?" (PDF). Transportation Research, Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour 8F (3): 197–211. doi:10.1016/j.trf.2005.01.003) (inactive 2010-03-17). 
  24. ^ Drews, Frank; Monisha Pasupathi and David L. Strayer (2004). "PASSENGER AND CELL-PHONE CONVERSATIONS IN SIMULATED DRIVING" (PDF). Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 48th Annual Meeting. 
  25. ^ Conversations in cars: the relative hazards of mobile phones
  27. ^ Hosking, Simon; Kristie Young, Michael Regan. "The Effects of Text Messaging on Young Novice Driver Performance" (PDF). 
  28. ^ Text messaging not illegal but data clear on its peril
  29. ^ 89% of Americans Want Texting While Driving Outlawed
  30. ^ a b c Hanowski, Richard (June 3, 2009). "Driver Distraction in Commercial Vehicle Operations". Retrieved 2009-07-28.  [1]
  31. ^ Valencia, Milton (8 May 2009). "MBTA: Conductor in Boston trolley crash was texting his girlfriend". 
  32. ^ Drivers face new phone penalties
  33. ^ Careless talk
  34. ^ [2]
  35. ^ A T McCartt and L L Geary (2004). "Longer term effects of New York State’s law on drivers’ hand-held cell phone use.". Injury Prevention 10 (1): 11–15. doi:10.1136/ip.2003.003731. PMID 14760020. PMC 1756531. 
  36. ^
  37. ^ Saltman, Jennifer (October 22, 2009). "New B.C. legislation will ban hand-held cellphone use, texting while driving". The Province. Retrieved January 1, 2010. 
  38. ^ Cellphone driving ban passed in Saskatchewan
  39. ^ Guide to Driving in Croatia Economy Car
  40. ^ Jail for mobile phone use in cars Daily News and Analysis
  41. ^ Cell Phone Driving Laws by State, from
  42. ^ State Cell Phone Driving Laws, from the Governors Highway Safety Association
  43. ^
  44. ^
  45. ^
  46. ^ PART 634-MOTOR VEHICLE TRAFFIC SUPERVISION, § 634.25 Installation traffic codes

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