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Cell phone use while driving and attributable crash risk

Farmer, Charles M.; Braitman, Keli A.; Lund, Adrian K.
Traffic Injury Prevention
September 2010

Objectives: Prior research has estimated that crash risk is 4 times higher when talking on a cell phone versus not talking. The objectives of this study were to estimate the extent to which drivers talk on cell phones while driving and to compute the implied annual number of crashes that could have been avoided if driver cell phone use were restricted.
Methods: A national survey of approximately 1200 U.S. drivers was conducted. Respondents were asked to approximate the amount of time spent driving during a given day, number of cell phone calls made or received, and amount of driving time spent talking on a cell phone. Population attributable risk (PAR) was computed for each combination of driver gender, driver age, day of week, and time of day. These were multiplied by the corresponding crash counts to estimate the number of crashes that could have been avoided.
Results: On average, drivers were talking on cell phones approximately 7 percent of the time while driving. Rates were higher on weekdays (8%), in the afternoon and evening (8%), and for drivers younger than 30 (16%). Based on these use rates, restricting cell phones while driving could have prevented an estimated 22 percent (i.e., 1.3 million) of the crashes in 2008.
Conclusions: Although increased rates of cell phone use while driving should be leading to increased crash rates, crash rates have been declining. Reasons for this paradox are unclear. One possibility is that the increase in cell phone use and crash risk due to cell phone use have been overestimated. Another possibility is that cell phone use has supplanted other driving distractions that were similarly hazardous.