View Full Version : About One in 20 Car Accidents Caused by Cell Phone

Dec 3rd, 2002, 03:22 AM
About One in 20 Car Accidents Caused by Cell Phone
Study Finds Economic Cost of Accidents Equals Benefit of Calls on the Road

By Nedra Pickler
The Associated Press
Monday, December 2, 2002; 10:51 AM

Harvard researchers estimate about one in 20 U.S. traffic accidents involve a driver talking on a cell phone, but say laws banning cellular phone use while driving would cost society about as much as they would save.

Data on the number of crashes caused by cell phones is incomplete, said the study released Monday by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis. But it suggested that drivers talking on their phones are responsible for about 6 percent of U.S. auto accidents each year, killing an estimated 2,600 people and injuring 330,000 others.

The figure was reached using current cell phone usage estimates to update a 1997 study. That study looked at phone records of Canadian drivers involved in crashes to see if they were making calls at the time.

The cell phone industry found fault with the projections and their connection to wireless phones.

"It's sort of assumptions built on assumptions," said Kimberly Kuo, spokeswoman for the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association. "There are not a lot of substantial findings that allow us to make policy conclusions."

The Harvard study also found that the value people place on being able to call from the road roughly equals the accidents' cost. Previous studies including one done by the same Harvard center two years ago have showed the benefit of car calls outweighed the toll from such accidents medical bills and property damage, for example.

Joshua Cohen, lead author of the study, said while an individual has a small risk of being in an accident caused by a driver who is talking on the phone, there is a growing public health risk from increasing cell phone use. The number of cell phone subscribers has grown from 94 million at the time of the center's 2000 study to more than 128 million today.

At the same time, Cohen urged careful consideration when deciding whether to ban cell phone usage.

"People place a value on these calls, so just wiping out the phone calls and saying we are going to ban them, that's not something that should be taken lightly," he said.

The Harvard researchers calculated the costs associated with accidents caused by cell phones, such as medical bills and loss of life. The costs added up to an estimated $43 billion a year about the same as the researchers arrived at for the value that cell phone owners put on their phones.

Cell phone owners cited benefits such as security and peace of mind for instant communication, increased productivity, privacy and quicker crime and accident reporting.

New York state banned driver cell phone use for drivers use in June 2001. Six other states have some regulation of in-vehicle use of cell phones, ranging from a one-hand-on-the-steering-wheel rule to prohibiting school bus drivers from using a phone.

Felix Ortiz, a New York assemblyman who fought for six years to pass the ban, is helping lawmakers elsewhere write similar legislation.

"Whether they say I'm crazy or they harass me, you know what? I think I am doing the right thing for the public safety and for the quality of life," he said.

The Harvard study found that a cell phone user has about 13 chances in 1 million of being killed in an accident while making a call; that compares with 49 in 1 million for someone driving without a seat belt.

Other drivers and pedestrians have about four chances in 1 million of dying in an accident caused by a cell phone user, according to the study. Their chance of being killed by a drunken driver is more than four times as high 18 in a million.

The statistics are based on an average cell phone owner using 600 minutes a year.

Harvard's statistics update a center study released two years ago that estimated the chance of being killed while driving and talking on a cell phone were about six in a million and 1.5 in a million for other people on the road.

The original study was financed by the center and a grant from ATT. The second phase was paid for solely by the center, which is supported by money from government, academia and individuals and private companies, including some automakers and insurers.

The original study found that the costs saved by a cell phone ban would be $2 billion, compared with about $25 billion in benefits lost, meaning a cell phone ban would have a loss to society of about $23 billion.

Cohen said the figures changed because more people are using cell phones, and they have better estimates of accidents caused by cell phone use, including those not reported to authorities.

Dec 3rd, 2002, 04:40 AM
It doesn't surprise me... we have people in Oz who drive while talking on the phone and looking at a street directory all at the same time! :o :eek:

Mateo Mathieu
Dec 3rd, 2002, 04:42 AM
Originally posted by inkyfan
It doesn't surprise me... we have people in Oz who drive while talking on the phone and looking at a street directory all at the same time! :o :eek:
You're right... it doesn't suprise me at all.

Dec 3rd, 2002, 04:48 AM
hehe...I don't think it would surprise any Aussie... the way some people drive around here! ;)

Colin B
Dec 3rd, 2002, 12:36 PM
I just can't believe that any study would take into account the financial benefit of using a mobile (as we call them here) whilst driving over the potential 'human' cost of making the call.

"Sorry Mrs. Jones, your son has just been killed by a businessman making a phone call whilst driving. But you'll be delighted to hear that the driver closed a multi-million Dollar deal during that call"

Studies in the UK have shown that a significant loss in a driver's concentration results, even when using a 'hands-free' device; more so than having a conversation with a passenger in the car. I've tried this myself and it's true, so I always pull over to the side of the road when answering a call now.
Legislation is being considered to ban all mobile phone use by drivers.