Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Auto safety driving while on the cell phone

Epidemiological studies have demonstrated that motorists are 4 times as likely to cause accidents when engaged in cell phone conversation than when not engaged in cell phone conversation. The landmark epidemiological study is Redelmeier and Tibshirani (1997) Association Between Cellular-Telephone Calls and Motor Vehicle Collisions. New England Journal of Medicine, 336, 453.

The study examined the telephone records of 699 auto drivers who had caused motor vehicle accidents and found that 24 percent were involved in cell phone conversations at the time of the accidents. The established four fold increased incidence of accidents in association with cell phone use is the same incidence associated with DUI drunk driving. These results were replicated in subsequent epidemiological studies, including another large case-crossover study using similar methodology, again finding a four fold increased incidence of auto accidents among drivers who were using cell phones at the time of the accident. McEvoy, Stevenson, McCartt, Woodward, Haworth, Palamara and Cercarelli, Role of Mobile Phones in Motorvehicle Crashes Resulting in Hospital Attendance; A Case-Crossover Study, British Medical Journal (July 12, 2005). Additional epidemiological evidence demonstrating driving impairment associated cell phone conversations is The 100-Car Naturalistic Driving Study, Phase II, DOT HS 810 593 April, 2006. In that NHTSA study it was found that "The use of handheld wireless devices (primarily cell phones) was associated with the highest frequency of secondary task distraction-related events. This was true for both events of lower severity (i.e., incident) and for events of higher severity (i.e., near crashes). Wireless devices were also among the categories associated with the highest frequencies of crashes and minor collisions." Significantly in terms of demonstrating the "attentional" rather than "manual" mechanism of cell phone driving impairment, "All of the crashes and a majority of the near crashes and incidents associated with wireless devices occurred during a cell phone conversation." Driver inattention generally was credited with the greatest contribution to overall accident rates. Significantly, NHTSA found that "Wireless devices, including primarily cell phones ... account for the highest frequency of inattention related occurrences ..."

Studies finding that cell phone driving impairment equates with DUI level alcohol intoxication are important for our present purposes because this is a level of driving impairment which has been previously judged by our state legislatures to be sufficiently dangerous to criminalize. If we accept that cell phone impaired drivers are a danger to society objectively equal to DUI level drunk drivers, then we suggest that it follows that cell phone use while driving should also be outlawed and criminalized.

In the most important series of controlled experimental studies performed on cell phone driving impairment to date, it was found again that the driving impairment associated with cell phone use was at least equal to that of DUI level alcohol intoxication. Indeed the incidence of accidents caused by cell phone users during the controlled simulations was found to be significantly greater than the incidence of accidents caused by those whose driving was impaired by DUI level alcohol intoxication. The most recent of the publications is Strayer, Drews and Crouch, �A Comparison of the Cell Phone Driver and the Drunk Driver,� Human Factors, Summer 2006. Strayer first announced his findings demonstrating DUI level impairment associated with cell phone use in 2003. Strayer, D. L. & Drews, F. A. & Crouch, D. J. (2003). Fatal Distraction A Comparison of the Cell-Phone Driver and the Drunk Driver. In D. V. McGehee, J. D. Lee, & M. Rizzo (Eds.) Driving Assessment 2003: International Symposium on Human Factors in Driver Assessment, Training, and Vehicle Design. Published by the Public Policy Center, University of Iowa (pp. 25-30).

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