Don't tell Ray LaHood, but a study from Carnegie Mellon University and the London School of Economics has said "Hold the Phone!" to the argument that talking on a mobile phone while driving raises the risk of a crash. Said one of the study's two authors, "Using a cell phone while driving may be distracting, but it does not lead to higher crash risk in the setting we examined."

That setting was from 2002 to 2005, before and after 9:00 PM, in the salad days when just about every carrier had a plan that offered free calls on nights after 9:00 PM and weekends. They found that even though call volume climbed more than seven percent after that hour, an examination of eight million crashes in nine states and fatal crashes nationwide showed that crashes didn't increase after that magical distracting hour. Nor did they find legislation banning cellphone use while driving to have any effect on decreasing crash rates.

One theory the researchers had for the contrary findings is that in real life, drivers might pay more attention to what they're doing when they're on the phone (or in a case we encounter often, simply slow down to a crawl), which they might not do in the lab. But there is precedent for questioning the body of driving-while-phoning research, with another study by Wayne State University in 2011 saying that crash risks had been overestimated in previous studies.

The study was only concerned with those drivers talking on cell phones, not those engaged in texting or using the Internet. Of all those other things one can do with a cellphone behind the wheel, a researcher said, "It is certainly possible that these activities pose a real hazard."
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Driving Under the Cellular Influence

Carnegie Mellon Research Shows Cellphone Use May Not Cause More Car Crashes

PITTSBURGH, Thursday, August 8, 2013 - For almost 20 years, it has been a wide-held belief that talking on a cellphone while driving is dangerous and leads to more accidents. However, new research from Carnegie Mellon University and the London School of Economics and Political Science suggests that talking on a cellphone while driving does not increase crash risk.

Published in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, the study uses data from a major cellphone provider and accident reports to contradict previous findings that connected cellphone use to increased crash risk. Such findings include the influential 1997 paper in the New England Journal of Medicine, which concluded that cellphone use by drivers increased crash risk by a factor of 4.3 - effectively equating its danger to that of illicit levels of alcohol. The findings also raise doubts about the traditional cost-benefit analyses used by states that have, or are, implementing cellphone-driving bans as a way to promote safety.

"Using a cellphone while driving may be distracting, but it does not lead to higher crash risk in the setting we examined," said Saurabh Bhargava, assistant professor of social and decision sciences in CMU's Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. "While our findings may strike many as counterintuitive, our results are precise enough to statistically call into question the effects typically found in the academic literature. Our study differs from most prior work in that it leverages a naturally occurring experiment in a real-world context."

For the study, Bhargava and the London School of Economics and Political Science's Vikram S. Pathania examined calling and crash data from 2002 to 2005, a period when most cellphone carriers offered pricing plans with free calls on weekdays after 9 p.m. Identifying drivers as those whose cellphone calls were routed through multiple cellular towers, they first showed that drivers increased call volume by more than 7 percent at 9 p.m. They then compared the relative crash rate before and after 9 p.m. using data on approximately 8 million crashes across nine states and all fatal crashes across the nation. They found that the increased cellphone use by drivers at 9 p.m. had no corresponding effect on crash rates.

Additionally, the researchers analyzed the effects of legislation banning cellphone use, enacted in several states, and similarly found that the legislation had no effect on the crash rate.

"One thought is that drivers may compensate for the distraction of cellphone use by selectively deciding when to make a call or consciously driving more carefully during a call," Bhargava said. "This is one of a few explanations that could explain why laboratory studies have shown different results. The implications for policymakers considering bans depend on what is actually driving this lack of an effect. For example, if drivers do compensate for distraction, then penalizing cellphone use as a secondary rather than a primary offense could make sense. In the least, this study and others like it, suggest we should revisit the presumption that talking on a cellphone while driving is as dangerous as widely perceived."

Pathania, a fellow in the London School of Economics Managerial Economics and Strategy group, added a cautionary note. "Our study focused solely on talking on one's cellphone. We did not, for example, analyze the effects of texting or Internet browsing, which has become much more popular in recent years. It is certainly possible that these activities pose a real hazard."

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For the study, CMU's Saurabh Bhargava and the London School of Economics and Political Science's Vikram S. Pathania examined calling and crash data from 2002 to 2005, a period when most cellphone carriers offered pricing plans with free calls on weekdays after 9 p.m.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      Cory Tan
      • 2 Years Ago
      this study is pure bullshit. just a bunch of accountants trying to tell a story to the world by punching numbers. why don't they get a bunch of drivers to chat on phones while driving, and sit beside them while they drive. i'll be handing out fresh underwear to survivors at the end.
      • 2 Years Ago
      So this "study" finds no more risk for crash rates. That MAY be true for the driver. How about the 10000 people the jackass cut off or ran off the road and never even noticed. Stats can say anything you want if you manipulate them to your liking.
        • 2 Years Ago
        Read the article. This study WOULD account for the 10000 people they cutoff IF that caused an accident. There is nothing specific to the driver.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Certain people can handle talking on the phone or doing any other things while driving, others simply cannot. Youve seen them, the morons driving 25 in a 45 just looking at their phones or putting on eye makeup. Survival of the fittest!
      • 2 Years Ago
      I have always doubted the studies that say cell phones are more distracting than other things in cars. What about screaming kids, pets jumping around, the person next to you talking your ear off. I see people shaving. Reading. Putting on makeup. In car infotainment systems. Granted, texting does take more time away. But I feel that special laws to banish certain activities in cars is overkill. If you get distracted and cause an accident then you pay the price, whatever that price may be. I call it personal responsibility. And yes I know that a distracted driver could cause a fatal accident to others. So the person shaving is allowed to be distracted but not the one on the phone? I know I am probably in the minority on this.
        • 2 Years Ago
        Completely agree. Texting / calls are an easily fingered cause (esp. in court). Basically a statistic *****. It's funny that people blame "stuff" for crashes. It really has zero to do with any of the "stuff". It's the idiots behind the wheel who allow themselves to get distracted who are 100% at fault. 100%. You'll also note that there is never any mention of the ratio of morons to non-morons in any of these studies... so... they're pretty much all invalid and a complete waste in my book. (Though, I think the jury is still out on the lab testing to determine morons from non-morons.)
      • 2 Years Ago
      So they compared off-peak driving (after 9pm) with peak driving and found no increase in accidents. Shouldn't they have a decrease after rush hour? Call volume climbed 7% after 9pm. How much did driving decrease after 9pm?
      • 2 Years Ago
      In my view, strictly talking on the phone, with the phone up to your ear, doesn't have to be dangerous. You talk to other people in the car all the time, hearing their voices come from a little box isn't that different. However, it's everything else leading up to and following the talking that's a big issue. Fishing for your phone, looking at it when you're picking up or dialing, texting, putting it back in your pocket/bag/somewhere where it won't slide around can all be very distracting. And because you generally have to deal with picking up, dialing, texting and putting it back down, I think it's best to ignore what this study has to say.
      • 2 Years Ago
      So how many cell phones do you have to be using in order to be a problem, 2, 3, 5 ???... Pure Common Sense which seems to be lacking today and my experience on the roads tells me cell phones are a major problem, People that drive and phone have disrepect for other drivers and people on the road, I often see them holding up traffic by driving slower, as soon as the call is over they break the speed limit, I assume they are late, I see it alot, it it wasn't an issue I wouldnt be here typing. I just hope Im never in an accident where a driver using a cell phone hurts me, cos they will pay. Cell phones have a place but its not in a moving car. Huhhhh, what about the texters walking across that dont look up, what morons.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Study funded by the telecommunication companies and their completely objective lobbyists? Just curious.
      George Krpan
      • 2 Years Ago
      • 2 Years Ago
      Eh, real life experience tells me something different. Then again, I've seen people doing nothing more apparent than driving get into stupid accidents...
      That Guy
      • 2 Years Ago
      Great, more news from the WE ALREADY KNEW THAT department. In a related story, water is wet, snow is cold, and trees are made of wood. Any reasonable person can operate a phone and drive. It's really not that hard. And in this society, some people can do it, most can't. I use my phone all the time while driving and I'm still alive.
        • 2 Years Ago
        @That Guy
        Idiots are always the ones who survive the crash.
          • 2 Years Ago
          I think he means that somebody's kids are killed in accident by arrogant idiot who thinks he is special and has super powers and can perform surgery while driving, and then they get to watch said idiot walk away with a sprained knee while they bury their family.
          That Guy
          • 2 Years Ago
          So it's the smart ones that crash? There's logic for you. Just because I'm able to handle doing more than one thing at once does not mean I'm an idiot...
      J W
      • 2 Years Ago
      The study was based off a segment from 2002-2005. How many more people have cell phones from that point until today? Texting was in it's infancy during that year segment. The results are dated at best and do no apply to today's technology and increased traffic.
        • 2 Years Ago
        @J W
        Eh what??? More cell-phones out there means talking while driving is more dangerous? o.O
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