New study: Cellphone crash risk overstated?
Study author says risk overestimated by as much as four times

By David Tanner, associate editor

A researcher at Wayne State University says talking on a cellphone poses virtually no increased risk for drivers. Richard Young says previous studies may have overestimated crash risk by as much as four times.

A study authored by Young appears in the January 2012 edition of Epidemiology. Part of his study re-examines data gathered in 1997 and 2005 that combined cellphone billing records and crash reports to establish crash risk.

Young, a professor of research in the university’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, offered new data of his own by using GPS to track day-to-day driving habits of 400 drivers during a 100-day period.

After combining the old data with his new data that used GPS, Young was able to make apples-to-apples comparisons of the relationship of driving time and cellphone use on control days and “crash days.”

“What the investigators did not control for before was the amount of driving on the contrast day, on the comparison day,” he says of the older studies. He compares it to breathing, saying that if someone was breathing just before a crash, does that make breathing a factor in the crash?

He says it’s the same thing with cellphone use if the data is left unchecked.

“It was an artifact that they overlooked in their data,” Young says.

“They tried to do the best they could at the time because back in 1997, they didn’t have many vehicles with GPS in them yet, so they just relied on drivers’ memories of how much they had driven and exactly when on previous days. So they made a mistake, and it’s now corrected.”

Young does not dispute the dangers of texting while driving, and supports the finding by Virginia Tech that showed texting was 23 times more dangerous than not texting while driving.

He also notes that the Virginia Tech study showed that the mere act of talking on a cellphone posed no risk and even benefited drivers by keeping them alert.

“Texting, emailing, manual dialing and so forth, not conversation, are what increase the risk of crashes while driving,” Young says. He takes exception when agencies, such as the National Transportation Safety Board, ignore studies like his and others in a quest to further regulate drivers.

“Texting is definitely dangerous. ... However, (the NTSB has) gone much too far in calling for a ban on cellphone conversations or for that matter CB conversations,” Young says. “I really disagree with this heavy-handed approach.”

OOIDA supports a ban on texting while driving for all vehicle drivers, not just truckers. The Association also rejects proposing a universal ban on cellphone use.

“How do you legislate against every single type of distraction in a vehicle? It’s not possible and I think the more we go down that road, it’s detrimental to society,” OOIDA Director of Regulatory Affairs Joe Rajkovacz said.

Driver training and education of all entry-level drivers would go a long way to correct many problems and avoid reactionary laws and costly regulations intended to legislate behavior, Rajkovacz added. LL