850,000 Crashes Linked to Cells Phones So Far in 2013

by | Nov 12, 2013 | Personal Injury

A car crash related to cell phone use or texting occurs about every 30 seconds in the U.S. That adds up to more than 850,000 cell phone-related auto accidents since the beginning of 2013, according to the National Safety Council.

The organization recommends that all drivers refrain from using phones behind the wheel, including hands-free devices. People who use Bluetooth, GPS, email dictation smartphone apps, and other hands-free electronics are a danger to others on the road, the National Safety Council says.

The council and other agencies have scrutinized crash data and determined that hands-free cell phone apps and electronic devices are risky, even though they are designed to make electronics safe for drivers. Even without juggling a phone and the wheel to type a text or leave a voice mail, drivers are distracted by mobile technology.

Distracted driving causes more than nine fatalities and 1,000 injuries every day in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies distractions into three groups:

  • Visual: The driver takes his or her eyes off the road.
  • Manual: The driver is not holding the steering wheel.
  • Cognitive: The driver is not thinking about driving.

Texting while driving is particularly dangerous because composing and sending messages involves all three kinds of distraction—visual, manual and cognitive. As a consequence, 12 states require drivers to use only hands-free mobile technology on the road.

Starting in October, hand-held cell phone use by drivers is treated as a primary enforcement infraction. That means that law enforcement officers can pull over anyone using a hand-held cell phone, even if the driver is not violating any other traffic laws.

Commercial truckers and bus drivers are prohibited from using hand-held cell phones by federal law. Truck drivers face stiff penalties for using cell phones behind the wheel because reaching for a phone triples the risk of a truck crash.

Although most drivers acknowledge that manual and visual control are important for traffic safety, cognitive distractions are increasingly common. AAA recently debunked the myth that hands-free devices prevent distracted driving, and criticized automakers for adding too many electronic gadgets to new cars. AAA worked with University of Utah researchers to study distracted driving and found that voice-to-text apps were actually more dangerous than using a cell phone to make a call. The study also found that conversation with passengers is risky, ostensibly because it increases the amount of social information the driver is digesting while operating a vehicle. However, if the passenger was aware of road conditions, the level of driver distraction dropped off sharply when compared with a cell phone conversation or text dictation.

Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute is conducting research to establish the link between conversation and visual distraction among commercial drivers. The Institute is evaluating how often truck drivers using mobile technology glance away from the road, including measuring distraction among truckers using hands-free devices like Bluetooth. The study will examine 20,000 truck crashes over the course of data collection and researchers hope to reveal the link between using electronics—any electronics—and traffic wrecks.