Inconclusive Results From Distracted Driving Research

Springfield, Evanston and Chicago are among the Illinois cities that have, or are considering legislation restricting the use of cell phones while driving. While cities and states look to reduce car and truck accidents through such measures, the research done on cell phones and distracted driving is far from clear. Should new laws ban the use of hand held cell phones? Should it ban all cell phone use, including through hands-free devices? Are experienced drivers able to use cell phones safely while driving? Many studies have been done, but the issue has proven difficult to pinpoint.

It is not in dispute that car accidents have been decreasing for many years. This decrease has occurred despite the proliferation of cell phone use over the same period. There are many factors that could explain why there are fewer accidents. Speed limits have been reduced significantly over the years. Drunk driving awareness and enforcement of DUI laws have reduced alcohol-related accidents. Graduated license laws have reduced the number of inexperienced drivers on the roads in some places. Improvements in technology, including better tires and improved brakes have given drivers more ability to avoid accidents.

The supporters of cell phone bans point to several studies that demonstrate the danger of distracted driving. Research in Canada and Australia indicated that a person talking on a cell phone was four times more likely to have an accident. The California ban on hand held cell phone use led to a drastic decrease in the fatal accidents suffered by drivers using their phones. Some supporters do question whether hands-free devices are any safer than hand held cell phones.

While the overall impact of cell phones on motor vehicle safety can be debated, it is clear that distracted drivers are less able than their focused counterparts to operate a vehicle. The attention paid to distracted driving will hopefully help all drivers pay attention to the road. The cost of a lapse in concentration can be hard to bear.