As state legislatures around the country rush to ban the use of cell phones in cars, I thought it would be a good time to pause and consider a few facts about cell phones and traffic safety over the past few years.
- Cell phone use has exploded over the past decade. In 2008, over 83 percent of Americans said they owned a cell phone, according to the Pew Center.
- 15 percent of Americans reported owning a Blackberry, iPhone or other smart phone in the same study.
- Texting continues to explode in popularity, with the average American sending more than 310 texts per-month in 2008, according to the Neilson survey.
- In 2002, at least 6 percent of drivers on the road at any given time were talking on the phone.
- Drivers used their cell phone during 19 percent of all trips in 2002.
- 35 percent of all day-time cell phone minutes are used while behind the wheel, according to a report from the NTHSA.
- American roads are safer than they have ever been. In 2008, there were just over 1.25 fatalities per 100 million miles driven. That is down from 1.73 in 1994.
- Not only are our roads safer, but we are getting in fewer accidents as well. According to data from the NHTSA, there were 6.7 million car crashes in 1996, and only about 5.9 million in 2006.
- The benefit to Americans of being able to use cell phones while driving is estimated to be at least $43 billion, according to a 2002 Harvard University study on the costs and benefits of cell phones in cars.
- That same study found that the tremendous cost of banning cell phones in cars does not outweigh the benefits.
- A study from the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution came to the same conclusion.
- An exhaustive study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that outlawing the use of cell phones by drivers did decrease the number of people chatting while driving, but did not save any lives.
These facts and data show us that despite all the sensationalistic claims like “talking on a cell phone is more dangerous than drunk driving,” the rapid proliferation of cell phones and text messaging in cars has not made our roads more dangerous. On the contrary, our roads have become dramatically safer over the last decade.
Is this increased safety due to a decline in carpooling? Perhaps.
After all, if you ignore the results from fancy “eye-ball tracking” studies and driving simulators, which are not very applicable to the real world anyway, and just ask motorists what they find distracting, they will tell you something surprising. Crying children, it seems, are one of the biggest distractions motorists face. At least that is according to a survey conducted by Leasetrader.com. So maybe we should let cell phones be, and just ban carpooling instead.
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