Inattention is a big factor in automobile crashes, according to driving accident studies, and using cell phones while driving is a major source of the inattention.
According to Matthew Sundeen, program principal with the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found in a study last year that "driver inattention was the primary contributing factor in most crashes, and that hand-held wireless devices were among the highest distraction related factors in crashes and were the leading distraction-related factor in near crashes."
Sundeen, writing in a research paper published last year, cites further evidence from a 2003 article published by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, showing that cell-phone use by drivers may cause approximately 2,600 deaths, 330,000 moderate to critical injuries and 1.5 million instances of property damage in America per year.
In 2000, however, an HCRA analysis of the risks posed by the use of cell phones while driving concluded that the risks appeared small in comparison with other dangers on the road, according to Sundeen.
Another study, conducted at the University of Utah, found that talking on a cellular phone reduced young drivers' response times so significantly that they reacted to brake lights in front of them as slowly as drivers between 65 and 74 years old. That study also found, writes Sundeen, "that all drivers who used cell phones, regardless of age, were 18 percent slower hitting their brakes, had a 12 percent greater following distance to compensate for paying less attention to road conditions, and took 17 percent longer to regain the speed they lost when they braked than drivers who did not use cell phones."
In yet another study, researchers from the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center found that cell phones ranked eighth in a list of distractions that caused crashes, below activities such as adjusting the radio or eating and drinking, according to Sundeen. Yet the researchers found it difficult to provide a definitive answer as to which driver distractions carry the greatest risk of crash involvement.
Sundeen writes that 33 states in 2004 considered driver-distraction laws. Only four states have laws prohibiting hand-held-phone use while driving.
December 1, 2006
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