Using a cellphone while driving increases crash risk. A 2014 IIHS study looking at trips made by 105 drivers during one year found the risk of a crash or near crash was 17 percent higher when the driver was interacting with a cellphone. Much of the increase was attributable to reaching for, answering or dialing a cellphone. Those things tripled the risk, while talking on or listening to a cellphone wasn’t associated with an increased rate of crashes or near crashes.
Bans on hand-held phone use and texting are increasingly common, but it is not clear that they reduce crashes. This is the case even though IIHS research has documented that bans on hand-held phone use reduce overall phone use. There is a disconnect between estimated crashes due to cellphone use and real-world crash trends, which indicate that crashes have been declining in recent years, even as driver phone use has increased.
Cellphones and texting aren’t the only things that can distract drivers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines distracted driving as any activity that could divert attention from the primary task of driving. Besides using electronic gadgets, distractions also can include adjusting a radio, eating and drinking, reading, grooming, and interacting with passengers.