Cell Phone Safety is Up to You.
The increased popularity of cell phones over the past ten years has been accompanied by growing concern for the potential hazards of drivers using cell phones while operating a moving vehicle. But does cell phone usage have an impact on a driver's ability to make quick decisions while driving? Is there an increased likelihood of being involved in an accident while using a cell phone? And what options do busy people have for communicating while on the road?
Just the facts
Let's start with the facts, and there are a lot of them. Numerous studies have been conducted on the use of cell phones while driving, with many focussing on different aspects of the problem. Some have looked at the different risks associated with hand-held and hands-free devices while others have focused on the seriousness of injuries in crashes involving cell-phone users and the demographics of drivers who use cell phones.
First, let's find our culprits. A January 2007 survey¹ found that 73% of drivers surveyed admitted to speaking on their cell phones while driving. While that number may not be surprising to some, the same survey also found that 19% of motorists say that they text message while driving. That equates to roughly one in five drivers who not only use their cell phone while driving, but actually send and receive text messages on their cell phones instead of focussing on the task at-hand.
So how does this translate into bad driving, if at all? Once again, let's turn to the studies.
Many studies have shown that using hand-held cell phones while driving can constitute a hazardous distraction and a July 2005 study² concluded that drivers are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves by using a cell phone while driving. If that alone weren't enough, a 2006 study³ concluded that talking on a cell phone while driving is as dangerous as driving drunk, even if the phone is a hands-free model.
¹ Survey conducted by Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company.
² Survey conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Perth, Australia.
³ Survey conducted by The University of Utah. Published in the summer 2006 issue of Human Factors.
The Hands-Free Myth
Many people believe that operating a hands-free cell phone while driving is much safer than simply using a hand-held cellular device. However, the same July 2005 study mentioned above found that banning hand-held phone use won't necessarily improve safety if drivers were to switch to hands-free devices. The study found that crash risk didn't vary by type of phone.
In fact, an earlier study by researchers at the University of Utah found that hands-free cell phone users were 18% slower in braking and took 17% longer to regain the speed they lost when they braked. Drivers using hands-free cell phones redial calls much more often than drivers using hand-held sets (40% to 18%), further suggesting that hands-free sets may provide drivers with a false sense of security.
What you can do
Consider that, during rush hour, the average driver needs to keep track of about 3,000 items, including signs, traffic lights, other vehicles, passengers and pedestrians, plus road and weather conditions. Now add in the distractions related to cell phone usage and you can quickly realize that talking on a cell phone (whether hands-free or hand-held) is not a safe option.
Transport Canada recommends turning off your cell phone before you start driving, as you won't be enticed to so much as check who's calling if the phone doesn't ring. If there are passengers in the vehicle, let one of them take or make the call. If you're expecting an important phone call, let someone else drive.
If you are driving and you find that you absolutely must make or receive a call, pull over. Most roads and highways offer ample room to pull off to the side so, when the phone rings, look for a safe opportunity to pull over and make the call. As the statistics show, there's no safety in using your cell phone while driving and your safety (and that of your passengers) is simply never worth the risk.