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In the United States over 266 million people subscribed to such wireless communication devices as cellphones as of October 2008, compared with approximately 4.3 million in 1990, according to the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association. 

Increased reliance on cellphones has led to a rise in the number of people who use the devices while driving. There are two dangers associated with driving and cellphone use, including text messaging. First, drivers must take their eyes off the road while dialing. Second, people can become so absorbed in their conversations that their ability to concentrate on the act of driving is severely impaired, jeopardizing the safety of vehicle occupants and pedestrians. Since the first law was passed in New York in 2001 banning hand-held cellphone use while driving, there has been debate as to the exact nature and degree of hazard. The latest research shows that while using a cellphone when driving may not be the most dangerous distraction, because it is so prevalent it is by far the most common cause of this type of crash and near crash.

Studies about cellphone use while driving have focused on several different aspects of the problem. Some have looked at its prevalence as the leading cause of driver distraction. Others have looked at the different risks associated with hand-held and hands-free devices. Still others have focused on the seriousness of injuries in crashes involving cellphone users and the demographics of drivers who use cellphones. Below is a summary of some recent research on the issue.

In an informal online survey conducted by State Farm in November 2010. Approximately one in five drivers acknowledged surfing the Internet while behind the wheel. In the survey, more than 19 percent of respondents admitted to having gone online via a cellphone at least once a week while driving, 74 percent reported making or receiving calls at least once a week while driving and 35 percent reported sending or receiving text messages as frequently. State Farm said that it plans to conduct a more thorough study in 2011. The insurer said that the 19 percent estimate of Web use might be low because most respondents to the survey were in their 30s, while the largest users of cellphones tend to be younger.

Public Attitude Monitor 2010: Texting While Driving, a survey released in November 2010 by the Insurance Research Council, found that 18 percent of drivers in the U.S. reported texting while driving in the last 30 days. This figure includes 31 percent of drivers age 16 to 24, 41 percent of drivers age 25 to 39 and only 5 percent of drivers 55 and older.

A study by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), released in September 2010, found that texting bans may not reduce crash rates. The study looked at collision claims patterns in four states—California, Louisiana, Minnesota and Washington—before and after text bans went into effect. Collisions went up slightly in all the states, except Washington, where the change was statistically insignificant. Adrian Lund, president of HLDI and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said that the findings “call into question the way policymakers are trying to address the problem of distracted driving crashes. They’re focusing on a single manifestation of distracted driving and banning it. This ignores the endless sources of distraction and relies on banning one source or another to solve the whole problem.”

A survey conducted for State Farm Insurance by Harris Interactive released in September 2010 found that a large percentage of teens between the ages of 14 and 17 strongly believe that drunk driving was more likely to cause a fatal accident than texting. More teens also thought that drunk driving was more likely than texting to cause a crash and result in ticketing and arrest. The survey seems to indicates that despite public awareness campaigns about the dangers of distracted driving many teens still do not understand the risk.

Also in September 2010 the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released its third-annual Traffic Safety Culture Indexwhich reported that 52 percent of drivers said they feel less safe on the roads now than they did five years ago. The leading reason cited (88 percent) was distracted driving by motorists who drive while texting and emailing. The study also showed that while 62 percent of respondents feel that talking on a cellphone is a serious safety threat they do not always behave accordingly. Almost 70 percent of drivers surveyed admitted to talking on their phones, and 24 percent said they read or sent text messages or emails while driving in the previous month.

A survey released in August 2010 showed that nearly 90 percent of teenage drivers acknowledged such distracted driving behavior as texting or talking on a cellphone although most respondents were aware that the behavior increased the risk of an accident. The online survey, conducted by  Seventeen magazine and AAA, the auto club, gathered responses from 1,999 drivers between the ages of 16 and 19. Eighty-four percent said they were aware that distracted driving increased the risk of a crash, yet 86 percent acknowledged such behaviors as texting, talking on cellphones, eating, adjusting radios, applying makeup or driving with four or more passengers.

A study released in January 2010 by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), shows that the number of traffic crashes have not declined in California, Connecticut, New York and Washington, DC, the three states and jurisdiction that prohibit drivers from using handheld cellphones. The study was based on an analysis of insurance claims for crash damage. Officials said more research is needed to clarify the findings, which run counter to the result of other IIHS research.  Continued     Printed with permission of iii.org
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