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Report: Talking, Not Texting Causes Wrecks

By Sandy Fitzgerald   |  

Cellphone use is being blamed on 26 percent of all motor vehicle crashes, but it's drivers talking, not texting, that is causing the accidents.

Only about five percent of the cellphone-related crashes were caused by people texting or checking their status updates, reveals the National Safety Council's annual report, released this week.  But the other 21 percent of the accidents involved drivers who were chatting on their phones, either while holding them or using hands-free devices or their phone's speaker button.

"Intuitively, texting has more elements of distraction because you’re looking away from the road, but people are more comfortable talking on the phone and probably do it more often," Kara Macek, communications director of the Governors Highway Safety Association told The Wall Street Journal's MarketWatch.  "We suspect a lot of this data is also underreported simply because people will not own up to the fact that they were distracted and caused a crash."

That's because drivers using cell phones see only about half of their surroundings, said David Teater, senior director of transportation initiatives for the National Safety Council.

With texting increasing in popularity over phone calls, tapping out messages will likely get even more drivers in trouble in the future. One third of Americans favors texting over telephone calls, according to a Pew Research Center study,  sending an average of 41 texts a day. That number rises among young adults between the ages of 19-25, who average 110 texts a day, MarketWatch reported.

Safety experts are advocating a federal ban on all cellphone use while driving, including the use of hands-free devices.

Federal law bans train engineers and drivers, along with commercial truck and bus drivers, from using cellphones. Only 12 states and the District of Columbia ban hand-held cellphone use, while 42 states and Washington, D.C., ban texting behind the wheel. No states ban all cellphone use by drivers, but 37 states and D.C. do not allow novice drivers to use cellphones.

But even if a federal ban is enacted, it may have very little effect on the nation's accident rates, a new study suggests, saying that while driving habits change, people don't really give up their cellphone calls.

The recent study by Cheng Cheng, a graduate student in economics at Texas A&M University, uses data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s National Occupant Protection Use Survey to estimate how cellphone bans affect drivers' behavior. He learned that while visible cellphone use drops by about 50 percent when states enforce a ban, that means that drivers change how they use them to avoid getting a ticket.

However, Cheng said his research shows that while some drivers are more safe while cellphone bans are in place, others drive dangerously while trying to hide their calls from the police, reports The New York Times.

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Cellphone use is being blamed on 26 percent of all motor vehicle crashes, but it's drivers talking, not texting, that is causing the accidents. Only about five percent of the cellphone-related crashes were caused by people texting or checking their status updates, reveals...
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