The Correlation Between Use of Cell Phones and Traffic Accidents

Shubhra Jain
June 15, 2012

Submitted as coursework for PH250, Stanford University, Spring 2012


With the explosion in numbers of cell phone users over the last couple of decades, cell phone usage while driving has become a safety concern for traffic officials. With the advent of smartphones, emails and instant messages have added to the numerous sources of distraction during the extremely arduous task of driving. Young men driving in metropolitan regions are more likely to use cell phones while driving.

Investigation of Ill Effects

According to an Australian study by Suzanne et al., enforcement of hand held phone restrictions is as low as 69% and most drivers oppose the escalation of the ban to hands free phones. [1] Besides, McCartt and Geary highlighted that enforcement and compliance of laws governing cell phone usage for drivers in New York significantly decreased over time. [2] Donald et al. used a case crossover design to conclude that the use of cell phones quadrupled the risk of vehicle collision during the period of the call. [3] They further qualified their findings in a later publication making it clear that the risk had been weighed against usual distractions like radio etc. [4] Besides hand, eye, foot coordination, driving requires cognitive attention that is taken away by devices like cell phones. Besides, the sudden distraction caused by the ringing of cell phones can be a cause of alarm and distract a focused driver. Studies have also shown that people are less likely to be alert to their surroundings and hence prone to being followed and robbed. [5]


There is little doubt in the fact that cell phones increase the rate of motor vehicle accidents. However, the flipside is that they have also been used to report drunken drivers, help people in emergencies and cite suspicious activities. Like most modern technologies, cell phones can be very helpful with responsible usage while at the same time, they can be life threatening devices when indiscriminately used.

© Shubhra Jain. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] S. P. McEvoy, M. R. Stevenson and M. Woodward, "Phone Use and Crashes While Driving: A Representative Survey of Drivers in Two Australian States," Med. J. Aust. 185, 630 (2006).

[2] A. T. McCartt and L. L. Geary, "Longer Term Effects of New York State's Law on Drivers' Handheld Cell Phone Use," Inj. Prev. 10, 11 (2004).

[3] D. A. Redelmaier and R. J. Tibshiran, "Association Between Cellular-Telephone Calls and Motor Vehicle Collisions," N. Engl. J. Med. 336, 453 (1997).

[4] D. A. Redelmeier and R. J. Tibshirani, "Car Phones and Car Crashes: Some Popular Misconceptions,' Can. Med. Assn. J. 164, 1581 (2001).

[5] H. Alm and L. Nilsson, "The Effects of a Mobile Telephone Task on Driver Behaviour in a Car Following Situation," Accid. Anal. Prev. 27, 707(1995).