Study renews debate about phones and drivers
The Harvard Center for Risk Analysis (HCRA) said Monday that a new evaluation estimates that the use of cell phones by drivers may result in about 2,600 deaths, 330,000 moderate to critical injuries, 240,000 minor injuries, and 1.5 million instances of property damage in America per year. But because the data on cell phone use by motorists are limited, the study admits the range of uncertainty is wide. The estimate of fatalities ranges between 800 and 8,000, and the estimate of injuries is between 100,000 and 1 million.
The study revises the findings of work in 2000 by the Center for AT&T Wireless. HCRA says the new study reflects more current data on cell phone use by motorists from the National Highway and Traffic Administration, and accounts for crashes unreported to authorities. It also updates earlier estimates of the economic benefits from cell phone use to account for increasing subscribers.
Assuming typical usage of 600 minutes per year, Senior Research Scientist Joshua Cohen, Ph.D., finds that the risk of death to a driver using a cell phone is about 13 per million drivers. It could range, however, between 4 and 42 per million per year. The risk of death to other roadway users is about four per million per year (range, 1-12 per million). While the risk to individual drivers, passengers and pedestrians is low, Cohen said, because so many more people are using cell phones the overall risk to society raises an issue for policymakers.
Cohen’s analysis also compared the monetary benefits and costs of a complete ban on non-emergency cell phone use by drivers. He compared the benefits – such as reduced medical costs, reduced property damage, and insurance costs — against the benefits of cell phone use by drivers — estimates of what subscribers pay. The benefits of a ban would be worth about $43 billion with a range of $9 billion to $193 billion. The savings would be roughly offset by the economic value of the banned calls, also around $43 billion annually with a range of $17 billion to $151 billion. He concludes the economic costs and benefits would be a wash.
The Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA) responded by saying the study offers nothing new and leaves too much range for speculation.
CTIA spokesperson Kimberly Kuo said, “Despite the hype of the press release, the accompanying article is no more than a repackaging of old data from two previously published economic studies, which concluded that the benefits of using wireless phones while driving exceed their costs and that other safety measures would be more cost effective than banning wireless phone use while driving.”
The statistics on injuries, fatalities and property damage do not demonstrate a proven link to wireless phone use, she said. She also said the article concludes not only that the costs and benefits of a wireless phone ban are roughly equal, but also that regulations restricting wireless phone use while driving are less cost-effective for society than other safety measures, like driver education and the enforcement of existing reckless driving laws.