A New Automobile Liability: The Cell Phone

Donish Khan
December 14, 2012

Submitted as coursework for PH250, Stanford University, Spring 2012


With the surge of cell phone users in recent years, the freedom of communication via voice or texting was become a norm for every man, woman and even child. With this, cell phone related automobile accidents have also become a steadily rising phenomenon.

In a 1997 study conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine, it was documented that drivers who use a cell phone are four times more likely to be involved in a crash (the data was extracted from medical records). [1] The statistics continue to steadily increase showing what a dangerous distraction the cell phone can be to motorists. In 2010, the National Safety Council documented that 28 percent of automobile accidents involve talking or texting on cellphones. [2]

Current Safety Enforcements

To help decrease cell phone related automobile accidents, many states have implemented safeguards that will discourage cell phone use while driving. A 'hands free' law in which it is illegal and punishable by fine to operate a motor vehicle while talking on a cell phone (the exception being hands free devices) has been enforced in as many as 10 states. In addition, 38 states have restricts or outlaws the use of an electronic device while driving. [3] Furthermore, 39 states in the US have implemented a texting ban while driving. [3]

Future Safety Enforcements

One of the main problems with the currents law implemented is enforcement by police officials is difficult. Also, many states only enforce the previously mentioned cell phone bans as secondary enforcement, meaning that a police officer cannot pull over a motorist for the primary reason of cell phone use. [2]

Instead, for a more encompassing enforcement of these laws, mobile carriers are now encouraging car safety apps to be downloaded on phones which will reroute calls directly to voicemail if the phone's GPS detects that the phone is in car motion(typically above a certain threshold speed, 10 mph). [4] In addition, legistrators are encouraging car makers to stop making cell phone friendly options available in their cars.


Although many laws have passed legistration, their effectiveness is still not clear. In more than 120 there is no concrete evidence whether or not hands free laws have effectively eliminated the distraction of cell phones on motorists and reduced the amount of cell phone related accidents. [5] Clearly, to ensure safety on the road, we will need to find a more effective and permanent solution to cell phone distracted drivers.

© Donish Khan. 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] D. A. Redelmeier and R. T. Tibshirani, "Association Between Cellular-Telephone Calls and Motor Vehicle Collisions," N. Engl. J. Med. 336, 453 (1997).

[2] A. Halsey III, "28 Percent of Accidents Involve Talking, Texting on Cellphone," Washington Post, 13 Jan 10.

[3] J. Forsythe, "Us Ban Sought on Cell Phone Use While Driving," Reuters, 26 Apr 12.

[4] J. Bosari, "Wave of Car Safety Mobile Apps Created by Cell Phone Carriers," Forbes, 3 Dec 11.

[5] J. T. Cohen and J. D. Graham, "A Revised Economic Analysis of Restrictions on the Use of Cell Phones While Driving," Risk Anal. 23, 5 (2003).