Deaths Related to Drivers Distracted by Cell Phone Use

The increase in texting while driving is estimated to have caused more than 16,000 additional road fatalities between 2001- 2007 according to new research published in the American Journal of Public Health.

The research, looked at data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), which records the causes of all U.S. road fatalities and matched it with trends in cell phone use and texting volumes to calculate the impact.

The research also found that “crashes increasingly involved male drivers driving alone in collisions with roadside obstructions in urban areas” – the types of crashes we have traditionally associated with drunk driving. This finding appears to be in line with research that indicates texting while driving is equivalent to driving under the influence.

“For teens over the last 20 years, [alcohol related] fatal accidents have dropped by about 60 percent. In that same amount of time other fatal crashes for teens have gone up by about 35 percent, so that now, distracted driving and other things that are non-alcohol related are eclipsing the total numbers of fatalities that you see with alcohol. We’ve just traded drunk driving for distracted driving” says David Strayer, a cognitive scientist at the University of Utah who has been involved in a number of studies measuring cell phone use and crashes.

Evidence continues to mount

A new report issued by the U.S. Transportation Department said 5,474 people died in 4,898 crashes linked to distracted driving in 2009. Of those, about 1,000 involved cell phones.

In another newly released survey, researchers from Harris Interactive found that  “Fewer teens view texting while driving as leading to fatal consequences as compared to drinking while driving,” according to a press release by State Farm who commissioned the survey.

“Of 14- to 17-year-olds who intend to have or already have a driver’s license, the survey found that 36 percent strongly agree that if they regularly text and drive they could be killed one day. In contrast, the majority of teens (55 percent) strongly agree that drinking while driving could be fatal.”

“The awareness gap becomes more pronounced among teens who admit to texting while driving versus teens who refrain from the practice. Among teens that have never texted while driving, 73 percent strongly agree they will get into an accident if they text and drive. Yet among teens that admit to texting while driving, only 52 percent strongly agree they will get into an accident as a result of the practice,” the agency said.

Research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found even higher texting frequency. Their data indicates that 81% of U.S. residents said they have used their cell phone while driving, and that of the 82% of 16- to 17-year-olds who have cell phones, 52% said they use them while driving.

It’s not just teens who are texting behind the wheel

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project released a report in Nov. of 2009 found 25% of 16 to 17yr-olds who have cell phones say they text while driving. However, perhaps the most disappointing finding from their research was that teens say their parents are also texting behind the wheel.

Pew found that “the frequency of teens reporting parent cell phone use behind the wheel in our focus groups was striking, and suggested, in many cases, that texting while driving is a family affair.”

The American Journal of Public Health article provides this conclusion: “Distracted driving is a growing public safety hazard. Specifically, the dramatic rise in texting volume since 2005 appeared to be contributing to an alarming rise in distracted driving fatalities. Legislation enacting texting bans should be paired with effective enforcement to deter drivers from using cell phones while driving.”



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