Gadgets tied to 25 percent of car crashes

July 13, 2011

Driving distractions, primarily by cellphones and other electronic devices, are associated with up to 25 percent of U.S. car crashes, according to a report released on Thursday. The study by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), a nonprofit group that works to improve traffic safety, assessed research from more than 350 scientific papers published since 2000. It showed that drivers are distracted up to half the time and that crashes caused by distractions range from minor damage to fatal injury.

Cellphone use raises the risk of crashing, but texting is likely to increase crash risk more than cellphone use. “Despite all that has been written about driver distraction, there is still a lot that we do not know,” GHSA executive director Barbara Harsha said in a statement. “Clearly, more studies need to be done addressing both the scope of the problem and how to effectively address it.” The GHSA defined distracted driving and suggested measures for states and organizations to reduce distracted driving. The report said laws banning handheld cellphones while driving reduced their use by roughly half since they were first implemented, but cellphone use increased subsequently. There is no conclusive evidence on whether hands-free cellphone use is less risky than handheld use, the report said. Evidence is also lacking on whether cellphone or texting bans have reduced crashes or injuries.

The GHSA suggested a complete ban on cellphone use, handsfree or not, for novice drivers, who are the highest-risk. It also recommended a texting ban for all drivers. Thirty U.S. states and the District of Columbia have prohibited the use of all cellphones by novice drivers and 41 states and Washington, D.C. had prohibited texting by novice drivers. Thirty four states and the District of Columbia have enacted texting bans for all drivers. But the report said texting bans have proven difficult to enforce. Because the research and data on these laws’ effectiveness is not definitive, the report recommends the 41 states without handheld cellphone bans hold off and monitor existing laws before enacting their own. The GHSA represents the state and territorial highway safety offices. Its members are appointed by their governors.

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