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Cell Phone Statistics
By Kim Lance, Contributor to

Cell phone usage has been soaring for the past 15 years. In the 2001 Transportation Statistics Annual Report distributed by the Bureau of Transportation it was reported that by 2001 nearly 120 million Americans subscribed to a cell phone service. This was a dramatic increase since ten years prior in 1991 when the cell phone subscription statistic was 7.6 million. Even since 2001 the number has dramatically risen.

Cell Phone Statistics Regarding Driving Accidents
It may seem like common sense that handling and dialing a cell phone while driving makes you less safe than if you just kept both hands and eyes on the road, but there are still many people that use cell phones while behind the wheel of a car. According to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3 percent of drivers are talking on hand-held cell phones at any given time. The NHTSA also explains that of the 54 percent of drivers who usually have a wireless phone in their vehicle, 73 percent reported using their phone while driving. That statistic is likely to be higher if more current research is conducted.

A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the first concrete evidence of the effects of cell phone use on injury crashes. IIHS revealed recently that drivers using phones are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves. The risk was determined by comparing phone use within 10 minutes before an accident occurred with use by the same driver during the prior week. The subjects of the study were drivers treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries suffered in car accidents from April 2002 to July 2004.

Here are more cell phone statistics from the recent study, “Role of cellular phones in motor vehicle crashes resulting in hospital attendance” by S. McEvoy et al. published in the British Medial Journal:

  • The main finding of a fourfold increase in injury crash risk was consistent across groups of drivers.
  • Male and female drivers experienced about the same increase in risk from using a phone.
  • Older and younger than 30 drivers experienced the same increase in risk.
  • There was no difference in accident statistics between drivers using hand-held cell phones compared to those using a hands-free cell phone device.
  • Weather played no factor in the accidents with 75 percent of them occurring during clear weather conditions.
  • Eighty-nine percent of the crashes involved additional vehicles.
  • Over half of the injured drivers reported that their crashes occurred within 10 minutes of the start of their trip.

Risk of Car Accident is the Same In Hands-free Versus Hand-Held Cell Phones
Many areas of the United States and other countries have tried to make the roads safer by regulating cell phone usage. New York became the first state to ban drivers from using hand-held devices. Australia requires hand-held devices to be used when talking on the phone while driving. Massachusetts requires that drivers keep one hand on the steering wheel at all times, which may encourage increased use of hands-free devices. Illinois and Florida do not allow the use of headsets except for single-sided headsets because of the risk that hands-free devices might interfere with a driver’s ability to hear noises. Arizona and Massachusetts school bus drivers are prohibited from using cell phones while driving, and several other states have proposed similar legislation. As of late 2001, an additional 20 states were debating laws related to cell phones and motor vehicles. However, these study results suggest that banning hand-held phone use won’t necessarily enhance safety if users just change to hands-free phones. Injury crash risk did not differ from one type of phone use to another.

"This isn't intuitive. You'd think using a hands-free phone would be less distracting, so it wouldn't increase crash risk as much as using a hand-held phone. But we found that either phone type increased the risk," Anne McCartt, Institute vice president for research and an author of the study, says. "This could be because the so-called hands-free phones that are in common use today aren't really hands-free. We didn't have sufficient data to compare the different types of hands-free phones, such as those that are fully voice activated."

This new cell phone statistics from this study are consistent with research conducted in 1997 that also showed phone use was associated with a fourfold increase in the risk of property damage crash. A study by the National Safety Council found that drivers talking on cell phones missed twice as many simulated traffic signals and took longer to react to those signals they detected. Again, the results were the same for hand-held and hands-free devices. The results of these studies confirm that cell phone usage while driving can be distracting and that the distractions associated with phone use contribute significantly to automobile accidents.

Cell Phone Statistic Gathering In Accidents
Originally, state police officers did not, nor were they required to, collect information about cell phone usage when getting information for a vehicle accident report, but now more and more states have enacted laws requiring police to gather cell phone usage information when reporting a car accident. Several states such as Louisiana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania have already approved cell phone driving studies, making the future gathering of cell phone statistics more feasible.

Some Positive Cell Phone Statistics
Although it is becoming increasingly apparent that cell phone usage on the road is a safety concern, it is also true that wireless technologies do provide benefits to safety and traffic management. The Cellular Telephone and Internet Association reported that drivers using cell phones place 139,000 emergency calls each day, something that state police are generally appreciate. A 1997 study in the New England Journal of Medicine also found that emergency response times have been reduced due to cell phone usage, helping to save lives. The NHTSA study showed that drivers with cell phones are able to contact authorities about road hazards, traffic, or road rage and problem drivers. Cell phones have also proven to be beneficial in a drivers personal security by allowing drivers to contact help quickly when they experience roadside mechanical problems.

In any case, cell phone usage continues to rise and, subsequently cell phone usage while driving is increasing. As technology advances we are sure to see a greater response to the problem of cell phone distraction while driving and perhaps the cell phone car accident statistics will decrease with time, research, and awareness.


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