The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that distracted drivers are three times as likely to be involved in a car crash as their focused counterparts. As my children would say, "Like, seriously, right?"
It is also no surprise that cell phone use is the number one distraction of choice. Other distracitons include reaching for an object, reading, applying makeup, and eating. Eighty-five percent of crashes and sixty-five percent of near misses occurred within 3 seconds of the distraction.
The research was conducted by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, who tracked the behavior of 241 drivers in 100 sensor-equipped vehicles for a year. In the more than 2 million miles covered during the study, the drivers were involved in 82 crashes and 761 near crashes. Not surprisingly, younger drivers (between 18 and 20) were involved in more inattention related crashes than drivers over the age of thiry-five.
The study examined the distractions caused by talking, listening, and dialing a cell phone. Interestingly, dialing proposed no more statistical risk than talking or listening on a cell phone while driving. The use of a hands-free device did not improve the risks caused by using a cell phone while driving. The study did not distinguish text messaging, web browsing, or GPS use during driving.
I fully support traffic safety, and so I recommend that drivers refrain from cell phone use while driving. I also recommend that cell phone users exercise caution while walking. Last week, I treated a young lady in my emergency department who was text messaging a friend while walking down the street. Oblivious to her surroundings, she stepped off of a curb, twisted her ankle, and fell in front of an oncoming car. Luckily, the driver had reached down to answer his ringing cell phone and swerved away from the fallen teenager, striking a street light. The young lady ended up with a fractured ankle. The driver of the other vehicle was treated for minor contusions. Both cell phones were uninjured.