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Is cell phone use still a major cause of car crashes?

Most drivers probably understand that anything that diverts their attention from the road can result in dangerous consequences. Cell phone use, for example, is one of these common distractions, and although drivers know that driving while using a cell phone can lead to auto accidents, this doesn't always stop them from using the phone while behind the wheel.

A number of states have passed laws that prohibit people from talking on handheld cell phones while they are driving. Louisiana is not one of these states, though it does ban texting and driving. On the other hand, hands-free cell phone devices have made it easier for drivers to talk on the phone while still keeping both hands on the steering wheel of their vehicles. Given the widespread use of these hands-free devices, does cell phone use continue to be a factor in auto accidents?

Research from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), along with a corresponding report from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, showed that there is no increase in accident risk associated with the specific act of talking on a cell phone. This would seem to indicate that as long as the driver is using a hands-free device, they aren't increasing the odds of getting in an accident. But, that is not necessarily what the data means.

Every cell phone, regardless of whether it is hands-free, requires the user to engage in at least some visual-manual tasks. Moreover, the VTTI study shows that any time a driver engages in these visual-manual tasks that are not related to driving the car, they increase the risk of a crash threefold. This suggests that even a hands-free device can divert the driver's attention long enough to cause an accident.

Although cell phone technology continues to improve and make it easier for users to perform other tasks while also using the phone, that doesn't make it safe to talk and drive. Car accident victims who suffer injuries at the hands of a distracted driver should consider holding those people accountable for their dangerous actions.

Source: Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, "New VTTI study results continue to highlight the dangers of distracted driving," Accessed on August 27, 2015

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