In September 2010, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a report on distracted driving fatalities for 2009. The NHTSA considers distracted driving to include some of the following as distractions: other occupants in the car, eating, drinking, smoking, adjusting radio, adjusting environmental control, reaching for object in car, and cell phone use. In 2009 in the U.S. there was a reported 5,474 people killed by distracted drivers. Of those 995 were considered to be killed by drivers distracted by cell phones. The report doesn't state whether this under or over represents the level of cell phone use amongst drivers, and whether there is a causal relationship.
A 2003 study of U.S. crash data states that driver inattention is estimated to be a factor in between 20 to 50 percent of all police-reported crashes. Driver distraction, a sub-category of inattention, has been estimated to be a contributing factor in 8 to 13 percent of all crashes. Of distraction-related accidents, cell phone use may range from 1.5 to 5 percent of contributing factors. However, large percentages of unknowns in each of those categories may cause inaccuracies in these estimations. A 2001 study sponsored by The American Automobile Association recorded "Unknown Driver Attention Status" for 41.5 percent of crashes, and "Unknown Distraction" in 8.6 percent of all distraction related accidents. According to NHTSA, "There is clearly inadequate reporting of crashes".
The scientific literature is mixed on the dangers of talking on a cell phone versus those of talking with a passenger. The common conception is that passengers are able to better regulate conversation based on the perceived level of danger, therefore the risk is negligible. A study by a University of South Carolina psychology researcher featured in the journal, Experimental Psychology, found that planning to speak and speaking put far more demands on the brainís resources than listening. Measurement of attention levels showed that subjects were four times more distracted while preparing to speak or speaking than when they were listening. The Accident Research Unit at the University of Nottingham found that the number of utterances was usually higher for mobile calls when compared to blindfolded and non-blindfolded passengers across various driving conditions. The number of questions asked averaged slightly higher for mobile phone conversations, although results were not constant across road types and largely influenced by a large number of questions on the urban roads.
A 2004 University of Utah simulation study that compared passenger and cell-phone conversations concluded that the driver performs better when conversing with a passenger because the traffic and driving task become part of the conversation. Drivers holding conversations on cell phones were four times more likely to miss the highway exit than those with passengers, and drivers conversing with passengers showed no statistically significant difference from lone drivers in the simulator. A study led by Andrew Parkes at the Transport Research Laboratory, also with a driving simulator, concluded that hands-free phone conversations impair driving performance more than other common in-vehicle distractions such as passenger conversations. However, some have criticized the use of simulation studies to measure the risk of cell-phone use while driving since the studies may be impacted by the Hawthorne effect.
In contrast, the University of Illinois meta-analysis concluded that passenger conversations were just as costly to driving performance as cell phone ones. AAA ranks passengers as the third most reported cause of distraction-related accidents at 11 percent, compared to 1.5 percent for cellular telephones. A simulation study funded by the American Transportation Research Board concluded that driving events that require urgent responses may be influenced by in-vehicle conversations, and that there is little practical evidence that passengers adjusted their conversations to changes in the traffic. It concluded that drivers' training should address the hazards of both mobile phone and passenger conversations.
Mobile phones and driving safety
Driver distraction and crashes: An assessment of crash databases and review of the literature
Talking Distractions: Study Shows Why Cell Phones and Driving Don't Mix
Regulating conversation during driving: a problem for mobile telephones?
Examining the Effect of Driving Experience on Teenage Driving Ability with Secondary Tasks
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