Cellphone use causes over 1 in 4 car accidents

(USA TODAY) Drivers are constantly reminded not to use their phones while behind the wheel, but a new study reminds us just how dangerous it is.

The National Safety Council’s annual injury and fatality report, “Injury Facts,” found that the use of cellphones causes 26% of the nation’s car accidents, a modest increase from the previous year. The 2014 edition of the report compares data from 2013 and earlier.

Only 5% of cellphone-related crashes occur because the driver is texting. The majority of the accidents involve drivers distracted while talking on handheld or hands-free cellphones.

The NSC report, combined with Texas AM research institute’s “Voice-to-Text Driver Distraction Study,” warns drivers that talking can be more dangerous than texting while operating a vehicle, and the use of talk-to-text applications is not a solution.

For most phone-related tasks, Texas AM’s survey said manual texting took slightly less time than the voice-to-text method. Regardless, driver performance was almost equally affected during both tasks.

In early 2013, the nation’s four biggest cellphone companies launched their first joint advertising campaign against texting while driving. Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile united behind ATT’s “It Can Wait” advertising campaign, warning their customers against the misuse of their own devices.

However, hands-free cellphone use has become a driving force in cellphone-related distractions of those behind the wheel. Studies published as early as 2009, such as a report in the Journal of Safety Research, have said that driving performance while using a hands-free phone was rarely found to be better than using handheld devices.

In the full NSC report, the organization lists and rates different tasks in relation to the effect they have on a driver’s mental workload, using data collected from a cognitive study. On the cognitive distraction scale, driving and talking on a handheld phone has a 2.45 workload rating, and driving while talking on a hands-free cellphone has a 2.27 workload rating.

On the same scale, using the speech-to-text application while driving has a 3.06 workload rating.

According to NSC’s website, there have been an estimated 245,358 car crashes involving drivers using cellphones so far this year. One effect cellphone use has on drivers is an increased reaction time, which is similar regardless of handheld or hands-free phone use.

Using data from 2011, NSC partnered with Nationwide Insurance to report the most accurate number of fatalities caused by cellphone-related vehicular accidents. National data show cellphones were involved in 350 fatal crashes in 2011.

The 2014 NSC report says the percent of drivers observed manipulating handheld electronic devices increased from 0.9% in 2010 to 1.3% in 2011.

The data collected on accidents and fatalities caused by cellphone use on the road is said to be under-reported due to the lack of drivers willing to admit to using their phones.

So far, 12 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands have made it illegal to use handheld devices while driving, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Out of the 43 states that have banned texting while driving, all but five have primary enforcement of their laws, meaning an officer may cite a driver for texting without any other traffic violation taking place.

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