How the Use of Cell Phones Has Changed Driving

The idea that using a cell phone while driving is unsafe is no longer debatable. A study published almost 25 years ago in The New England Journal of Medicine titled Association Between Cellular Telephone Calls and Motor Vehicle Collisions found that the use of cellular telephones in motor vehicles was associated with a quadrupling of the risk of a collision. That study was published long before the advent of texting. And long before people accessed the Internet with their phones.


Data gathered at the end of 2004 showed over 180 million Americans were owners of cell phones. The use of cellular and wireless devices while driving is banned in many countries around the world. In the U.S., some states have banned the use of hand-held devices, while others have implemented restrictions to specific age groups, such as teen drivers. The National Highway Traffic Administration reports that more than 25% of all highway collisions involve some form of distracted driving. According to the USDOT’s website, more than half a million people were injured, and over six thousand were killed in 2008 by distracted drivers.

The USDOT defines distracted driving as any non-driving activity that can distract a driver from the primary task of driving and increases the risk of crashing. There are three recognized categories of distracted driving: Visual – taking your eyes off the road; Manual – taking your hands off the wheel; and Cognitive – taking your mind off your driving. Cell phone use can cause all three of these types of distractions.

Distracted driving often has tragic consequences. In 2006 two scientists were killed in Utah when a 19-year-old driver crossed the centerline and clipped the front of their vehicle, causing it to spin and hit a truck head-on. The collision investigation revealed the teenager sent a text message moments before the crash. In another 2006 trucking accident, the driver was using his cell phone, resulting in International Paper paying out a $5.2 million settlement after an injured party required an arm amputation with lasting disfigurement. Unfortunately, there are many more examples off such collisions.

Text messaging has become an American obsession. It is difficult to gauge its effects on driving because law enforcement generally does not compile such data. Texting is the most dangerous distraction while driving, as it engages the driver visually, manually, and cognitively. A naturalistic study performed by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute looked at drivers’ habits while using cell phones. Cameras and measuring instruments were placed in vehicles and ran for over six million miles. The study concluded that tasks that took the driver’s attention away from the road posed the highest risk and revealed texters were 23.2 times more likely to be in a crash or a near-crash when compared to non-distracted drivers. Text messaging requires the most extended period of inattention of all possible interactions with a cellular device. Texting at the speed of 55 mph results in a period of 4.6-second intervals, or the equivalent to a football field, driving blind.

There is an on-going debate of whether alternative hands-free devices offer safety benefits. Another study conducted at the University of Utah revealed drivers utilizing a cellular device, no matter the delivery method, are just as dangerous as drunk drivers. The drivers in the study showed substantial variations in reaction times than their non-distracted counterparts. Smartphones have increased these risks by requiring users to perform multitasking activities, requiring addental cognitive impairment for extended periods.

A 2003 internal memo from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opined that the use of cell phones while driving has contributed to an increasing number of crashes, injuries, and fatalities, recommending cellular devices be used in vehicles under emergent circumstances only. A poll by the New York Times showed that most individuals support a ban on texting and driving and feel the punishment should be comparable to DUIs.

The bottom line is that using a cell phone while driving causes collisions. It is dangerous for the user and everyone else on the road around them. Parents should educate their teen drivers about these risks and hold them accountable for their actions. There are legal ramifications in many states for the use of cell phones while driving.

Kendall Law Group is focused on helping seriously injured, hard-working, honest people recover medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering caused by negligent actions. In most cases, an at-fault driver’s insurance company’s only objective is to save their company money. Don’t settle for less than you deserve. Speak with a member of our team at Kendall Law Group today to protect your rights. We offer free consultations and contingency fee-based services.

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