It’s been thought for many years that talking on a cellphone while driving increased the chances of getting into a car accident, but a new study suggests that chatting on a cellphone while driving doesn’t increase crash risk.
The study, which was published in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, used data from a major cellphone provider and accident reports.
"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 Carnegie Mellon University’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, according to Science Daily. "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."
Researchers also found no decrease in accidents in states in which legislation outlawed cellphone use behind the wheel.
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"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.
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.
Pathania added a warning, though, saying "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."