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.
After an unpromising start, having to be bribed by her parents to learn to ride without stabilisers, Sarah became rather keener on cycling in her university years, and was eventually persuaded to upgrade to proper road cycling by the prospect of a shiny red Italian bike, which she promptly destroyed by trapping a pair of knickers in the rear derailleur. Sarah writes about about cycling every weekend on road.cc.