'No link' between motorists speaking on mobile phones and having collisions

USA study analysed more than eight million car crashes: but the data's ten years old and doesn't include texting or surfing the net

by Sarah Barth   August 10, 2013  

driving using mobile phone

Driving while talking on a mobile phone does not increase the risk of a collision, a study by Carnegie Mellon University and the London School of Economics has found.

Researchers analysed eight million crashes in the USA over a three year period from 2002 to 2005 and found no link between conversations being had on mobile phones and collisions - but the results did not include texting and using mobile internet, which have increased enormously in popularity in the following years.

Levels of smartphone ownership have risen dramatically since Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, with other brands following it into the market. By the start of 2012, ownership of smartphones had overtaken that of basic mobile phones in the UK, and by the end of this year three in four British adults are expected to own one, according to Mobile Marketing Magazine.

According to the BBC, researchers found that: "While there was an increase in callers using multiple phone masts after 9pm, there was no corresponding increase in the number of road accidents".

In 1997, a paper published by the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that there was an increased risk of crashing while on the phone by a factor of 4.3. There has been a ban on driving while using a phone since 2003 in the UK and doing so risks a fine of £60.

Dr Vikram Pathania from the LSE said he was 'very surprised' by the findings.

He said: "At first we thought the numbers were wrong. We went back and checked everything - but there was nothing going on at all.

"We just know that we saw a big jump in cellphone use and there was no impact on the crash rate."

"We were only looking at talking, not texting or internet use. And it may be that the traffic conditions on the road at that time [9pm] are such that moderate use of cellphones does not present a hazard."

"It may look different if you focus on young males or new drivers," he said.

"Rash drivers will always find a way to distract themselves."

"Using a phone at the wheel increases the risk of a crash by four times," said Kevin Clinton, head of road safety at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA).

"Sadly, despite legislation which makes it illegal to do so, many people still use a mobile phone whilst driving."

A common sight

The new research, widely reported by the BBC and in the Daily Mail, could lead drivers to assume that speaking on a mobile phone is no longer considered dangerous. Despite the law, it's still a common sight: in the week commencing July 5, a total of almost 3000 driving offences were recorded by Police Scotland officers, who detected 1171 drivers speeding and 218 motorists driving while using a mobile phone.

A Onepoll online survey of 2,083 drivers conducted on behalf of Halfords earlier this year found that:

35 per cent of drivers admit reading text messages, which rises to 57% of under-25s

19 per cent use their smartphone to access social networking sites or the internet while driving

48 per cent of drivers confess to having used a handheld mobile to make a phone call at least once in the past year – 36% do so once a week or more

53 per cent say that they will take their eyes off the road to look at who is calling from them

45 per cent admit they do so to see who has sent them a text message

24 per cent say drivers should be allowed to use handheld phones while at traffic lights or in non-moving traffic

While Halfords’ research is based on an online survey, insurer LV= last year carried out an observational study in Cardiff, Edinburgh, London and Manchester to gauge mobile phone use in a live situation.

Researchers were placed close to pedestrian crossings and junctions, undertaking their observations during six-hour shifts on separate weekdays.

LV= said that drivers using handheld mobiles engaged in ”reckless driving, speeding, and sudden braking,” one third of them did not stop at pedestrian crossings (just 10 per cent of those not using mobiles failed to do so) and that they were twice as likely to demonstrate erratic driving behaviour.

And last year we reported that, according to a Freedom of Information request conducted by the insurer Swiftcover, to which 41 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales responded, over 171,000 motorists were fined £60 and had their driving licences endorsed with three penalty points over the last 12 months, as reported in the Mail Online. That compares to 115,900 in 2008.

Swiftcover added that it had conducted research among drivers which suggested that less than 3 per cent of those admitting using their mobile phone while driving are actually getting caught and fined.

Younger drivers accessing social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter was also highlighted as an area of particular concern, which was also a key finding of the 2011 edition of the RAC’s annual Report on Motoring.

Hands-free kits also pose 'extensive risk'

Paul Fingleton, 47, was killed in 2012 on a roundabout in Preston, by a championship motor racing driver, Frank Wrathall. Wrathall was speaking to his girlfriend on the phone for eight minutes up until the collision with Mr Fingleton.

The prosecution lawyer, Francis McEntee said: "CCTV evidence is patently clear - the defendant came up from behind Mr Fingleton, overtook him and cut across him, causing the collision."

Hands free mobile phone kits are legal, despite them being linked to a number of collisions in which cyclists were injured or killed.

Hands-free kits can cause an 'extensive risk' to drivers and pedestrians - and may be no safer than using a phone, according to research from AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety in the U.S.

The Times journalist Mary Bowers was hit by lorry driver Petre Beiu, 40 in November 2011. Beiu was using a hands free mobile phone.

Although not illegal, if it results in driver distraction it can be used to support a charge of dangerous or careless driving and the prosecution had maintained that Beiu was “too engrossed in a telephone conversation” to be aware of the cyclist.

He was fined £2,700 for careless drving and banned from driving for eight months.

Peter Bowers told the BBC: "Although it is legal to use a hands-free set at the moment, the research shows that actually, in terms of distraction, there is very little difference between a hand-held mobile phone and a hands-free one."

Mary is unable to move or speak and will spend the rest of her life in a nursing home.

Texting and driving deaths outstrip drinking and driving deaths

And we recently reported how a new study from the United States showed that texting while driving has now overtaken drinking and driving as the primary cause of death among teens in the country, claiming 3,000 lives a year, compared to 2,700 who are killed as a result of driving while under the influence of alcohol.

According to a CBS New York report, the study, by the Cohen Children’s Medical Centre in New Hyde Park on Long Island, found that despite most states having enacted laws to prohibit texting while driving, accompanied by road safety campaigns, most male teens who drive continue to text at the wheel – 57 per cent in states that ban it, and 59 per cent in states that don’t.

The findings are in line with a similar study published last year in the US by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found that 58 per cent of high school seniors admitted having texted or emailed while driving during the previous month, reported on NBC News.

“The reality is kids aren’t drinking seven days per week — they are carrying their phones and texting seven days per week, so you intuitively know this a more common occurrence,” the author of the latest study, Dr Andrew Adesman, who is in charge of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at the Cohen Children’s Medical Center told CBS.

 

 

 

 

20 user comments

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I hate texting cyclists, got full roads of them here, cyclists are the worst.

ricolek's picture

posted by ricolek [37 posts]
10th August 2013 - 16:05

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ricolek wrote:
I hate texting cyclists, got full roads of them here, cyclists are the worst.

Well, according to this study, there is no relationship between using a mobile while in control of a vehicle on the road, and collisions, so your hatred is based on what exactly?

posted by zanf [425 posts]
10th August 2013 - 16:31

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I'm surprised, since my personal experience is that a large proportion of near misses (when I'm either driving a car or cycling) occur when the other party seems to be using a mobile phone. But its possible that when cognitive load drops (because the roads are less busy) there is 'room' for the distraction of a mobile phone conversation. Basically the problem with phone conversations is they can vary in cognitive demand, which can overwhelm a driver if the traffic conditions are complex, or the are driving at speed. I suppose that the distraction of a phone call only becomes a problem when a driver needs all his resources to deal with a sudden and unexpected event on the road... But no one expects the unexpected Surprise

Using handsfree mobile phones (which is of course still legal for road users) does not usually involve a visual distraction. I think the increasing gadgetry in cars, satnavs, media devices, even web surfing is even more dangerous as it usually does involve visual distractions... You can text without looking, but it still takes one hand away from the controls, and many people do actually need to glance at the screen. Again as a cyclist I often realise I am not seen because I can see the driver staring at the dashboard and driving one handed...

Well I too have seen cyclists using non-handsfree mobile phones, and texting, whilst cycling. An out of control person on a bike isn't anywhere like as dangerous as an out of control driver, but still something that shouldn't happen...

posted by joncrel [8 posts]
10th August 2013 - 16:37

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zanf wrote:
ricolek wrote:
I hate texting cyclists, got full roads of them here, cyclists are the worst.

Well, according to this study, there is no relationship between using a mobile while in control of a vehicle on the road, and collisions, so your hatred is based on what exactly?

Irony really doesn't come across on the internet sometimes, does it? Wink

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posted by Simon_MacMichael [7926 posts]
10th August 2013 - 16:44

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Simon_MacMichael wrote:
zanf wrote:
ricolek wrote:
I hate texting cyclists, got full roads of them here, cyclists are the worst.

Well, according to this study, there is no relationship between using a mobile while in control of a vehicle on the road, and collisions, so your hatred is based on what exactly?

Irony really doesn't come across on the internet sometimes, does it? Wink

Poes Law.

That and switching between reading here and a particular cesspit of the internet where despite providing sources for evidence, people replying to my comments, repeat the ridiculous claims in the comment previous to mine.

Fuck it! I'm going to find a hill to cycle up and down and quit the internet for the rest of the weekend.

posted by zanf [425 posts]
10th August 2013 - 16:58

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I think this survey is more accurate

http://www.iam.org.uk/media-and-research/research/reports/20279-dont-pok...

"Between 2006 and 2010 distraction from mobile phones was a contributory factor in 1,690 road accidents which resulted in injuries; this figure includes 110 fatal accidents."

Mobile phone use has been demonstrated to make reaction times slower and reduce awareness when driving.

posted by seanbolton [126 posts]
10th August 2013 - 17:15

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And there is no link whatsoever between guns and people getting shot either.

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posted by cidermart [456 posts]
10th August 2013 - 17:33

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zanf wrote:
ricolek wrote:
I hate texting cyclists, got full roads of them here, cyclists are the worst.

Well, according to this study, there is no relationship between using a mobile while in control of a vehicle on the road, and collisions, so your hatred is based on what exactly?

The article does not say "there is no relationship between using a mobile while in control of a vehicle on the road, and collisions" it says "Driving while talking on a mobile phone does not increase the risk of a collision..." So the study does not cover texting/internet or cycling.

While I was reading the article I was thinking the study will be misquoted in many places with people now thinking it is ok to use a phone while driving. Wasn't expecting such a quick result...

posted by horizontal dropout [146 posts]
10th August 2013 - 17:42

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There's one factor not included in this article which might be relevant. The researchers "examined data before and after 9pm local time over a three-year period." "The timeslot was chosen because during the period studied (2002 - 2005) many American mobile phone operators offered free calls after 9pm during the week." Which is why the reference to 9pm quoted in the article. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-23631406.

posted by horizontal dropout [146 posts]
10th August 2013 - 17:47

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i think the key part of the study is that they are looking at after 9pm.

If you use a mobile in rush hour traffic i think the risk is very different to using it on clear roads at 3am.

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posted by mrmo [1030 posts]
10th August 2013 - 18:09

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I think declaring this, very selective, study as showing "no link" is pretty bad science reporting. But that's what we've come to expect from the media these days. To say "lots more people are using phones in moving vehicles but accident rates haven't increased" is crap. Are the people using the phones even the drivers?

Actual studies of reactions and ability show that even using a hands-free phone while driving is roughly the same as being twice the drink-drive limit. (Yes, I realise the irony of not having a citation there but it was in an old issue of New Scientist that's probably in the loft)

posted by SteppenHerring [169 posts]
10th August 2013 - 18:54

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That article and research is severely flawed. I was dismayed when I read it.

There was a program on the TV about about 2, 3 years ago regarding how mobile phones affect concentration and motor function. The programme showed a very highly rated traffic Police officer trained in the most advanced driving standards being put through tests where he had to negotiate a course of cones swiftly and accurately. First he did it with full concentration and did a perfect run. Then he did it again with a researcher in the passenger seat asking him to do simple arithmetic like 6+9, 7x6, 23+42. This time he hit cones and was much slower. And he wasn't holding a phone up at his ear with one hand either.

This is because two different parts of the brain are required for those separate functions - one to drive, one to perform the arithmetic. What happens is the brain splits it "computing skills" if you will, so each task get less brain power. That leads to mistakes.

Using a phone whilst driving has the same effect as the above, and its exactly the same effect as this: You are driving and you get lost, or dont really know where you are going, or you are driving in a new area looking for a house or shop, building, etc. The radio/CD player is blurting out music but not loud, just as you usually have it set when you drive in familiar areas. What do you do? You turn the music down so you can *concentrate* more on the task in hand. I guarantee you as a driver you have done this at some point. The key word there was concentrate.

Using a phone whilst driving and having a conversation as opposed to answering a call and saying, "Hello luv, I'll be about an hour late, I'm driving. See ya later" affects the part of the brain that allows you to focus and concentrate on your driving. It really does lessen your awareness of whats going on around your vehicle and will contribute to the risk of causing a collision and risk of injury or death. Don't do it.

I could write about many, many holes in that flawed, ridiculous research, but its beyond the scope of this post. I do wonder who sponsored the research though...

posted by Critchio [101 posts]
10th August 2013 - 18:57

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Severely flawed? To paraphrase Wolfgang Pauli, it's not even wrong. It's worse than not even wrong, it's dangerously not even wrong, and could lead to some road users using this unscientific drivel as justification for using their mobile on the road.

You may note the neutral term "road users" - I've seen cyclists as well as drivers with phones clamped to their ears. Both completely moronic, the former borderline suicidal, the latter potentially lethal.

posted by Argos74 [265 posts]
10th August 2013 - 20:00

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If using a mobile while driving has no effect on the number of collisions then perhaps the study simply highlights the terrible standard of driving in the US?

posted by spen [77 posts]
11th August 2013 - 8:13

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Well, mobile phone use by a car driver has been a contributary factor in at least 50% of my collisions with cars, perhaps they are looking at the statistics the wrong way around?

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posted by chrisl [31 posts]
12th August 2013 - 14:41

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how absolutely ridiculous, of course there's a link, speaking on the phone and even worse - texting - is a major distraction to any driver! Isn't this common sense?

posted by Karbon Kev [667 posts]
12th August 2013 - 17:12

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Karbon Kev wrote:
how absolutely ridiculous, of course there's a link, speaking on the phone and even worse - texting - is a major distraction to any driver! Isn't this common sense?
A shame that this "common sense" is not backed up by three years of study. Perhaps they should have misrepresented the results to fit in with the desired outcome!

posted by alun [44 posts]
12th August 2013 - 18:53

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"We were only looking at talking, not texting or internet use. And it may be that the traffic conditions on the road at that time [9pm] are such that moderate use of cellphones does not present a hazard."

Well that kind of sais it all. Talking on the phone is only less likely to be an issue if there are less people to crash into. So this report is a total waste of time and money, total numpties. Cherry picking the conditions to get the desired results.

posted by Mart [95 posts]
12th August 2013 - 21:01

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Read the statement carefully - "mobile phone conversations using several cell masts" in other words mobile phones in use by a person travelling in a vehicle, such that it links between a string of cell reception areas during the call.

Nowhere has the research any concrete evidence that the mobile phones are in use in a car and equally that they driver of the car is using the phone, they have assumed that detail to secure a sensational volte face headline. How many of those mobile phone conversations might have been made by passengers on trains, coaches, and in cars.

Shameful that it is put up as research that LSE puts its name to. Carnegie Mellon University - I don't know enough about, but the name ...

47 years of breaking bikes and still they offer me a 10 year frame warranty!

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posted by A V Lowe [471 posts]
11th September 2013 - 0:33

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The use of stats seems pretty selective to me, designed to "prove" a point.

Firstly, as suggested earlier, the increase in the number of calls passing from one cell mast to another is not a clear indicator of phoning while driving. The calls could be made by passengers in buses or trains, as well as passengers in cars, not just by drivers.

Secondly, while the time watershed might be significant in terms of US phone company charging policies, it has no particular significance to driving times, but one has to assume that the level of traffic has fallen significantly by that time of night - it will have peaked around 5-7pm with the evening rush hour.

So if the number of incidents has stayed the same, the RATE of incident has probably increased markedly.

posted by Paul M [306 posts]
28th September 2013 - 20:26

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