Do Cell Phones Cause Car Wrecks?

The question may seem rhetorical to some and overly obvious to most, but it’s a question researchers attempted to answer in a study released on Monday in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Their study set out to determine the role cell phones play in car wrecks, and their findings, were very interesting even though it missed a couple of potential behaviors which contribute to accidents.

Researchers studied 3,500 driver participants ranging in age from 16 to 98 over three years. All the drivers agreed to have their driving monitored by video cameras mounted in the cars along with devices which tracked information including location and speed. The video and tracking devices gave researchers the ability to evaluate driver risk through a comparison of alert, attentive, and sober driving.

The 3,500 participants were involved in 905 car crashes which caused injury, property damage, or both. What researchers discovered in these car crashes is listed below:

  • Almost 75% of involved some type of driver error
  • Drivers were clearly distracted 68% of the time
  • Using a cell phone increased the odds of being involved in an accident by almost four times compared to driving safely
  • The risk of an accident also increased significantly when drivers are emotional – angry, sad, tearful, or agitated

The study also found that the distractions which take the driver’s eyes (focus) away from the roadway for an extended period of time generate the greatest risk of a car wreck. The most dangerous activities observed included using or reaching for a handheld cell phone, reading, writing, reaching for an object (not just a phone), and using touchscreen menus on dashboards.

The study missed out on some context; it didn’t measure how many drivers who took part in risky driving behaviors got into accidents overall as compared to safe drivers. This may be an area that will be addressed in a future study. Additionally, while other behaviors that are less risky such as eating, drinking a non-alcoholic beverage, adjusting one’s hair, or tuning the radio appeared were observed, the article doesn’t address whether they were quantified in this study or may be included in a future study.

The good news is fatal and non-fatal car crashes have been declining in the US for several decades. This is largely attributed to the adoption of safety improvements in vehicles (seat belts, anti-lock brakes, air bags, etc.) and our roads. Distracted driving remains a problem which can be minimized if drivers will avoid using their phones (talking, texting, or directions), interacting with in dash systems, or browsing the internet on your connected vehicle (see Most of us will be involved in far few accidents if only we pay better attention to what’s going on around us while we’re driving.

What unsafe driving behaviors have you seen while out and about? Share them with me, as well as any questions, comments, or experiences you’ve had, on my Google +, Facebook, and LinkedIn pages. I’d love to hear from you!

Evie Wise
Evie Wise


Evie Wise
Evie Wise

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