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Cell Phone Use Raises Risks While Driving, Studies Show

A series of new studies and reports shows that drivers making a phone call or text messaging are more of a danger than previously thought.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    The dangers might seem obvious to most, but a series of studies and recent articles in the New York Times suggest the risks associated with calling or texting while driving are significantly higher than many people might have realized.

  • Among the findings:

    drivers making a phone call were four times as likely to cause an accident as other drivers; hands-free devices were not significantly safer; if you text and drive, it's twice as risky as just talking on the phone.

    Some of the data was compiled several years ago but was only recently released through freedom of information requests. The latest research was published today. It found truckers who texted while driving were 23 times more likely to crash.

    David Strayer is an expert on distracted driving who's published studies of his own. He's a professor of psychology at the University of Utah.

    And, Professor Strayer, I know that these devices are in more hands every day and thus in more drivers' hands. Do we know if texting while driving is something that people are doing more frequently to begin with?

    DAVID STRAYER, University of Utah: It is. It's certainly a growing problem, especially with younger drivers, teens and so forth. Up to 50 percent of the teens report that they text message while driving.

    So with the advent of some of these new technologies — the cell phone, text messaging, and some of the other aspects of things like iPods and so forth — there's more and more gadgets that are creating substantial new sources of distraction in the vehicle.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Well, you mentioned all the new machines that can accompany a driver in the driver's seat. Is it possible to compare the level of distraction, to compare talking on the phone to texting, to fiddling with your iPod, to resetting the GPS?

  • DAVID STRAYER:

    Some of the studies have been done to kind of try and benchmark the hazards, so when people have looked at the risk of talking on a cell phone, you're about four times more likely to be involved in an accident when you're talking on a cell phone. And that data comes from both epidemiological crash data, as well as driving simulator data.

    They provide a nice convergence showing that the risks are about four times higher and that talking on a hands-free cell phone, many people think that that would be a solution, turns out not to be a solution at all, that hands-free cell phone conversations are every bit as hazardous as using a conventional hand-held cell phone. In both cases, the risk is about four times greater than if you were driving without distraction.

    And to put that number into some context, other studies that have looked at the crash risk for people who are driving when they're drunk — at a .08 blood alcohol level — has a crash risk that's about four times greater than if they weren't impaired. So the crash risk is quite substantial.

    When you look at things like text messaging, it becomes even much greater. So our studies have found that the odds of getting into an accident are more like eight — the odds ratio is about eight times greater than for a non-distracted driver.

    And as you mentioned earlier, the work from Virginia Tech shows that some of the people who are trucking may be as much as 23 times more likely to be involved in an accident.

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