Monday, July 03, 2006
Are drivers on cell phones more dangerous than drunks?
People talking on cell phones in traffic are potentially more dangerous than drunk drivers. That is the startling headline from Frank Drews, a University of Utah professor. It's easy to remember, and positively ignites public debate about the issue, but should it?

I spent time talking with Drews and found him personable, well-intentioned, and convinced of the validity of his research. He studied forty drivers navigating the twists and turns of a driving simulator while unimpaired, then drunk, then talking on a cell phone. His results are startling. The cell phone users braked more slowly, had a harder time keeping with the flow of traffic, and were generally more likely to cause an accident. They in fact did crash several times, while his drunk drivers never did.

But there are significant caveats to consider.

For starters, the sample was small and the drivers just barely drunk. Most people who cause drunk driving accidents are significantly above the legal limit for intoxication. Beyond that, recent, much larger studies have found that being distracted, trying to pick up things in the car, and being tired can all be more dangerous than cell phone use.

The cell phone industry folks say the proof is in the pudding: Use of cell phones has skyrocketed over the past decade, yet the number of auto accidents has not.

So where does the truth lie? I've been cut off in traffic by oblivious idiots chatting away on their cells. I've nearly been rear-ended by them, too. But should we further regulate cell phone drivers? Or are there just too many bad drivers out there, people who'll be just as bad on ... or off ... the phone?
Posted By Tom Foreman, CNN Correspondent: 6:09 PM ET
  48 Comments
It doesn't make sense to ban cell phone talking while driving. People do many other things while driving that can't be monitored - eating, writing, talking to their passengers, putting on makeup, hitting their children, kissing, etc. It's a matter of personal responsibility and good sense not to take your hands off the wheel to dial.
Posted By Anonymous xtina - Chicago IL : 6:47 PM ET
I think the test results are interesting and will prompt further study. However, bad drivers are bad drivers. I think anything in their car that distracts them amplifies their bad driving and cell phones are the one thing we all can see, so we think that is the most relevant reason people get into accidents. There are probably 5 other distractions in most peoples cars that most of us never see or think to blame. Their radio, eating, talking, something shiny on the side of the road, someone pretty walking on the side of the road or daydreaming about something else. Hell, I've even seen people reading a novel.

The fact is, Americans drive like crap because our enforcement isn't what it should be. It's a fact that in most traffic courts, drinking and driving cases get most of the attention because they return the highest dollar amount. It's also a fact that $300 to a lawyer will get you out of most if not any traffic violation. The lesson is that you can drive like crap and if you get a ticket, just pay a lawyer to get you off. There is no penalty and no lesson. If we were tougher, we might learn more and we might be better. But we won't. It's not in our nature to think we need improving. Just the person in front of us that's in our way. They need to learn that the tall skinny pedal to the right needs to be pushed.
Posted By Anonymous Gary, Seattle, WA. : 7:02 PM ET
I'm ashamed to admit it but I have been guilty of doing both at some point in my life, driven when I had too much to drink and driving while on the cell phone. I will not try to justify either but I can say in hidnsight that my attention to driving when "over the limit DUI-wise" was a test in concetration which fortunately for me and other drivers near me got me home safely. I expended a considerable amount of concentration on driving correctly, keeping within the speed limt and lanes, again I stress this was not the right thing to do but I was all eyes and brain as it were in getting safely home.

On the other hand, driving while on the cell phone gave me no overt feeling that what I was doing was illegal or unsafe even though many times I caught myself just in time from rear ending someone in heavy traffic, leaving late when the light turned green and drifting out of my lane. We all know this, we've all done it and in our hearts we know this is true.

I have to admit that although DUI is absoutlely intolerable I still committed many more dangerous mistakes while on the cell phone.

The bottom line is that both are equally hazerdous and both should be equally outlawed. Anyone that believes making and conducting a phone call while driving is a safe thing to do is just plain wrong. Let's put a stop to this and move on.
Posted By Anonymous Lou M. Lake Forest, Ill : 7:04 PM ET
There are a lot of bad drivers out there regardless, but that shouldn't mean we give up trying to decrease the chances of dangerous accidents.

Eating, drinking, shaving, putting on make-up, changing CDs are just a few of the other driver distractions which are just as dangerous as using a cell phone while driving.

In my opinion, anything that requires a driver to use his hands for anything other than maneuvering the vehicle should be banned.
Posted By Anonymous Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA : 7:12 PM ET
Cell phone use is just as dangerous as drunk driving. Ex. my relative reached down to pick up their cell phone, running into a parked car. Needless to say, totaling their automobile. Not only on these occasions, but if you've ever rode behind someone using a cell phone, you will notice how slow, and preoccupied they seem to be. It should be against the law.
Posted By Anonymous Emily, New Orleans, LA : 7:22 PM ET
MOST DEFINITELY!!! Drivers using cell phones are very dangerous. I was riding with my 18 year old daughter. Not only was she answeswering her cell non-stop, but inbetween her constant talking and answering her friends calls she was TEXTING people! We nearly rear ended cars several times. She had four wrecks in 6 months. How could she possibly we a diligent driver? I threatened to take the cell phone away but she just got a job and now she pays for it herself. She is now more careful though. This is very dangerous. I think a blue tooth should be required by law and please, no texting!
Posted By Anonymous B.A. Taylor Nacogdoches, TX : 7:43 PM ET
The analogy fall down here - if someone honks at a cellphone user, they can toss the phone down and be alert. The drunk is still drunk.
Posted By Anonymous Arachnae, Sterling VA : 8:23 PM ET
Hi Tom, Why not equip vehicles w/ some appliances,too and get a few chores done while shuttling the kids around. Kidding! While multi-tasking is a fact of life,it's probably not the best thing to do while driving.Almost all of us make at least brief calls from time to time when we're 'ondaway but the research comparing the dangers of DUI and cell phone use is a hazard for everyone. So, it's probably a good idea for more states to mandate no calling/schmoozing/conducting business, etc... while driving laws.
Posted By Anonymous Carol B. Frederick, MD : 8:38 PM ET
Talking on a cell phone while driving is just plain STUPID! There should be laws that say you must pull over while talking on the cell phone. What is SO important that it can't wait until you are in a stopped position to talk. Only doctors should be allowed to talk on the cell while driving. Also only a doctor should be allowed to have the cell phone while dining out.
These cell phone people are just plain annoying, and I happen to agree that they are dangerous on the road.
Posted By Anonymous D. Campbell Regina,Sask. : 9:18 PM ET
I've lived in NYC for years and now in a small town in Massachusetts. I thought cell phone users while driving were bad there, paying little attention to anyone or anything in their way. Not to mention taxi drivers who I not only had to listen to, but they had MY LIFE in their hands, literally. But I'm in a small town now and I'm shocked that it's actually much worse here. People are driving faster down main roads talking. They're much more casual, as if being in a small town means their cars are less dangerous because fewer people are around.
Posted By Anonymous Larry, Massachusetts : 9:18 PM ET
Yes, we needd to regulate the use of cell phones while we drive. Much as we would like to think we can, multi-tasking is very difficult and tiring for us. Driving requires that we use all of our senses. Talking on the phone certainly engages our minds. distracting us from the more dangerous task of driving. Gut try telling that to my husband. we've taken trips where one person is on the blue tooth hands-free,another is on a hand- held,and information is being written on the back of a Wendy's bill. It certainly makes for a frazzled wife and a frosty trip.
Posted By Anonymous Angie,Laredo TX : 9:34 PM ET
I have been a passenger in a sedan-type car that was hit by someone distracted by talking on a cell phone. I also have been a passenger in a large truck that was hit by a drunk driver.

The driver that was on the cell phone hit the bumper but not at high speed. The lady was too distracted and did not give enough space to stop.

The drunk driver went through a red light at 40 mph because "he did not see it." The light had been red for about 15 seconds when our vehicle passed through. His car hit our truck on the passenger side (where I was) but hit the engine area, missing me.

Based on the above accidents, I believe, drunk drivers are more dangerous than drivers on cell phones (who are annoying more than anything else.)
Posted By Anonymous Genevieve M, El Paso, TX : 9:46 PM ET
As a Ph.D. student with an interest in how to properly communicate study findings, I am skeptical about the cell phone industry supporting that there is no causal link between phone use and auto accidents. To be fair, Mr. Foreman properly noted that there is reason to question the generalizability of his study, given the sample size. Despite this, it's not really necessary to dissect the findings. One just needs to drive in this country at any given time and witness near-misses by distracted cell phone users. The newest features, such as keypads and cameras, make cell phones even more distracting devices than ever. It doesn't sound plausible to keep people from using their cell phones while driving. Therefore the answer seems to lie with device and auto manufacturers, who should design phones and cars that allow ALL drivers to operate hands-free.
Posted By Anonymous Karen Alexandre, Sterling VA : 9:55 PM ET
While it is true that there are bad drivers regardless of the phone issue, that doesn't take away from the danger that cell phones represent. My cousin was badly injured, his whole life changed because of a woman trying to dial her phone while driving. People have grown so accustomed to the convenience of cell phones that they forget that they aren't vital. I don't have a cell phone, and trust me, I do just fine.
Posted By Anonymous Jodi, Calgary, Canada : 10:03 PM ET
People holding a cell phone in one hand rarely, if ever, use turn signals to show their intention to turn or change lanes.

While driving across the U.S. from Phoenix to the east coast just last year, I was nearly hit by semi-trailer trucks changing lanes without signalling on three occasions. Twice I confirmed that the drivers were using cell phones and simply not paying attention.

One of those occasions resulted in my being run off the road onto the median because the truck simply left me no other choice. Hitting the breaks would have still resulted in a collision so I swerved off the road. A lesser experienced driver may not have avoided an accident under similar circumstances. These near-misses all occurred at speeds at or near the speed limit on straight highway, dry weather conditions where visibility was not a problem.

Cell phone use should be banned while driving. The only exception is when an emergency dictates. Calling the police or for help in a medical emergency may be necesary to save lives. That is the only time that cell phones should be allowed for use while driving.

No matter how good you think you are at driving, your driving while using a cell phone is much worse and you can cause someone, or even yourself, to die.
Posted By Anonymous W. Thomas, Phoenix : 10:03 PM ET
I think I realized early on, in 1989, ho dangerous cell phones while driving could be. My mother was in the hosptial dying, and day after day my brother would drive us home from the hospital. Every day were were almost hit by cars within feet of the hospital. These drivers were obviously impaired by cell phones. They also were doctors, whose hand-to-eye coodination you'd think would have been better than the rest of us. Sad and strange that these professionals failed themselves to recognize the danger in themselves, yet that that they would be among the first to see the consequenses in emergency room visits by other drivers using cell phones.
Posted By Anonymous Lauren, Wheeling, WV : 10:12 PM ET
I'd have to say equally dangerous. Anything that takes away your concentration on driving is a recipe for disaster. I don't have enough fingers and toes to count how many times some idiot on a cell phone has cut me off in a parking lot, cut me off in a crosswalk, changed lanes without looking, etc. Enough already!
Posted By Anonymous Melinda, Whitby, ON Canada : 10:42 PM ET
I have personally been an idiot on my cell phone in the car- I learned and I DONT do it anymore. Its extremely dangerous. Your mind is elsewhere, especially if you are in a heated argument with someone. However, how can you regulate millions on people with cell phones- it would be extremely hard to do.
Posted By Anonymous Krista, Cincinnati, Ohio : 10:43 PM ET
Hi Tom,
"To be, or not to be"....A cell phone driver.."That is the Question." Is it not? I'd have to say, zip the lip when you drive, so we all can get home alive..Please...Take Care
Posted By Anonymous Lorie Ann, Buellton,Calif. : 12:08 AM ET
I do believe that drivers on their cells are more dangerous. Although I have yet to encounter an intoxicated driver, as I am only 17, I have been cut off, been followed too closely, almost rear ended and in one case, almost run off the road by those who are talking on their phones. Although my opinion may not mean much, I do believe some regulations need to be set in place. And it's not just teenagers either...it's everyone. No matter how well you may drive, you are more likely to get into an accident if you're on the phone.
Posted By Anonymous Rachel, N. Richland Hills, TX : 2:03 AM ET
Are we talking about handheld or handsfree cell phones?

It has been against the law to use a handheld mobile phone whilst driving in Hong Kong since July 2001. I know you get a fine if caught, but how much? I don't know, I haven't tried.

It's not 100% effective (you still curse every so often) but it's one of the few good things the government has done to improve safety in Hong Kong.
Maybe you should give it a go.
Posted By Anonymous Jaime, London, UK : 4:15 AM ET
You can't regulate fatigue or picking things up, but perhaps cell phone use should be more regulated. People can surely let their phones go to voicemail for 10 minutes or half an hour while driving (and in the cinema or theatre for that matter, but that's a different story).

Recently, while on a day trip to Rome, I had to slam on brakes or swerve a number of times because of people talking on cell phones while driving or cycling. Please bring on the regulations if only to protect these twits from themselves.
Posted By Anonymous Nikky, London, UK : 4:51 AM ET
It's a combination of poor driving habits and cell phone usage, that creates the hazards on the road today.I used to be a Over The Road Truck Driver, and I've seen folks do some stupid things in a car and as much as I hate to say it, in a truck too.They drive at excessive speeds, weaving in and out of traffic, and chatting away with who ever, and they just don't pay any attention to what is going on around them.If they only realized that there whole world and that of others, could be turned upside down in a second, they might reconsider their actions.I'm not saying the government needs to regulate the use of cell phones, I just think people should drive with some sense of responsibility and courtesy.
Posted By Anonymous Steve P., Lewisville,TX. : 5:30 AM ET
Perhaps even more dangerous is using a Blackberry to send or read e-mails while driving. I've seen people talking on the phone and sending e-mail. I wonder how that measures up with the dangers of drinking and driving.
Posted By Anonymous Tune, Washington, DC : 6:33 AM ET
Once again a lobby group is preventing to take action on something as serious as calling while driving. I dont buy the In many countries (at least in Europe) a 'hands free' free set is required. Otherwise you have to stop the car before taking on a conversation. It makes the roads a whole lot safer.
Posted By Anonymous Erik, Utrecht, The Netherlands : 7:39 AM ET
Do you honestly think that someone can perform two demanding physical/mental tasks at the same time, especially when the factor of novelty enters into it? As a psychologist, I don't, especially when it comes to driving while talking on the cell phone.

The size of the sample may be small, but it points to the need for more research and less PR on the part of the cell phone companies.

Driving is not an automatic, overlearned action, unless you travel the same road without fail while on the phone. Even then, unexpected things happen for which you must be mentally alert.

Cell phone use, as I view it, has become a major danger on the roads.
Posted By Anonymous Dr. Farrell, Englewood Cliffs, NJ : 8:24 AM ET
I have a back injury that will never get any better than it is now, from two accidents that were caused by drivers on cell phones. If you can't pull over for the two minutes it takes for a call, DON'T CALL!!! Besides that, unless you are a cop or the president, nothing is so important that you can't wait to find out.
Posted By Anonymous Monique Mellon, Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada : 10:26 AM ET
Cell phone useage while driving should be regulated. Someone else's cell phone call is not worth my life. I say this after a woman on a cell phone ran a red light almost hitting me. Good brakes and a flurry of prayers prevented an accident.
Hang up and drive or in the least, pull over.
Posted By Anonymous DColeman, Phx.AZ : 10:38 AM ET
I truly believe that cell phone users that talk while driving ARE worse than drunk drivers. Having driven a car under the influence, (not bragging, I am a recovering alchoholic) I know they tend to be overly cautious so as not to get caught, whereas talking on a cell you seem to forget the road and get involved in the conversation. Neither scenario is acceptable but a very interesting concept.
Bev
Posted By Anonymous Bev. Whitby, Ontario, Canada. : 10:43 AM ET
I have had 2 very close near-death encounters with people driving while on their cell phones, and one of those times when was when crossing the street with my then infant daughter. People who choose to use their cells phones while driving should be heavily charged, with the same consequences as those driving intoxicated.
Posted By Anonymous Sarah, Toronto : 10:51 AM ET
Tom,

I am so glad you have brought this issue to attention.

People who drive and talk on their phones are idiotic! They drive in two lanes and are clearly not paying attention to anything except their conversation! I noticed you didn't quote the auto insurance industry or the police reports on this issue.

Having a cell phone attached to your ear while driving should be banned. Speaker or hands free phones should be encouraged or drivers should be treated like the dangerous drivers that they are.
Posted By Anonymous Nicki F., Calgary, Alberta : 11:34 AM ET
There are already so many things that a driver has to be aware of while driving. Can she or he really be at their most alert and attentive to the road and what is going on around them if they are talking on a cell phone? Whether the research is conclusive or not, I think it is just good sense to at least use a headset IF you are going to talk while driving. Personally, I miss the days of being unavailable. It seems we can't go anywhere without being accessable to someone. Do we even remeber the days before cell phones? Yes, they are handy. But what is the price we are paying for this convenience?
Posted By Anonymous Amanda- Pasadena, CA : 1:17 PM ET
I don't know if we should ban cell phone use in the car. I'm sure that rather than stopping the conduct, restrictive laws would just have crafty drivers striving to conceal their phone use, perhaps causing even more safety hazards in the process (dialing while driving is dangerous enough, imagine what it's like when you do so surreptitiously).

Maybe we could just enhance ticket fines and punishments for those who violate traffic laws WHILE using cell phones. Furthermore the penalty should be progressive, escalating if it happens more than once. Even imprisonment could be an option for a third offense. That should encourage SAFER use without aspiring to the more impossible goal of deterring cell phone operation in the car altogether.
Posted By Anonymous Michele Jackson, Northridge, CA : 4:07 PM ET
the most dangerous person on the road is a mother, late for car pool, driving a suburban, and talking on her cell phone... or father, not to be sexist...dbv
Posted By Anonymous david houston texas : 5:01 PM ET
Talking on the cell whilst operating heavy machinery, that's a fantastic mix! And those "driving under the influence of cell" statistics must be accurate as hell. I would definitely be first to volunteer having been too distracted by my conversation to notice the circus tents. Why, what ever do you mean officer? What cell phone?

Then again, ban the use of phones in cars and I suspect people will find other ways to shut themselves off from having to think or notice the world around them. Too many lanes, so little time.

Got airbags?
Posted By Anonymous Tikka Madsen, Seattle, WA : 5:37 PM ET
it's very likely that poor drivers will be poor drivers with or without a cell phone in hand. yes, it would make complete sense to regulate driving while talking on a cell phone, but what kind of can of worms will open? if the driver is distracted by the conversation of a passenger, a child, shiny opjects, isn't that a potential problem as well?
if someone is oblivious to the risks involved simply by getting behind the wheel, that is what ought to be addressed, not just the cell phone users. it seems a little too after the fact.
Posted By Anonymous sarah, new york city, new york : 7:48 PM ET
cell phone users use one hand to drive and a drunk holds on for dear life for the straight line.both should not be on the road but i bet non-fatal accidents by cell phone users out number drunk ones
Posted By Anonymous cyndee,harahan,louisiana : 12:21 AM ET
The idiots found talking while driving should be sued and the government should cancel their driving license.
Posted By Anonymous nikhil, Bangalore, India : 2:04 AM ET
If you're going to talk AND drive, at least get a headset (and use it).
As far as i know, there may be 1 drunk person for every 100 people talking on the phone. I'm for banning cel phone use while driving. (what's so important that it can't wait??)
Posted By Anonymous Isabelle, Canada : 2:34 AM ET
I personally choose not to use a cell phone while I'm driving because I know my driving will falter. I live in a tourist town and the amount of people on their cell phones while driving is alarming. Several pedestrians have been struck already this year. I do believe, however, that the police have enough to worry about without trying to pick out people on their cell phones and ticket them. I wonder, does this study include the use of headset devices in the car? They are wonderful and allow all hands to be free while driving.
Posted By Anonymous Brooke, East Lansing, MI : 7:20 AM ET
I think cellphones are just getting a bad rap. What difference is it than talking to a passenger? Or talking to a passenger while holding food and eating? I think it's just that more people are talking on the phone while driving like idiots. The phone has nothing to do with it really. Just a lame excuse for bad driving.
Posted By Anonymous Lisa, Fairfax PA : 9:47 AM ET
People that try and drive while using a cell phone are a menace to society. Of course, Americans do everything but drive in their vehicles. Watch TV, eat, do hair and make up, etc. It's a wonder that we don't have more traffic accidents than we do.
Posted By Anonymous John, Middletown, IN : 10:15 AM ET
If cell phone use is regulated (as it should be), there will probably be just as many incompetent drivers on the road but why give them an additional weapon to deploy against the good drivers? I am extremely tired of being put in harm's way by these idiots. The only problem I see with regulation is that it creates one more rule of the road that the authorities have to enforce. But hey, why not give it a try? The only thing we have to lose is yet another moronic excuse for not paying attention to the road. Of course, the cell phone lobby will see to it that no regulation at all ever takes place.
Posted By Anonymous A. Roy Olson Tucson, AZ : 10:42 AM ET
I once read that driving with a passenger supposedly doubles your risk of having an accident, due in large part to having conversations with the passenger. If we require hands free devices in all cars, that essentially makes the cell phone conversation into a regular conversation with a regular (albeit invisible) passenger.

I'm not saying that people should be allowed to yak on their phones (or eat, or read newspapers, or discipline their children) while they're driving. But what really needs to change is how we approach driver education, and what we consider to be a "good driver". A truly "good driver" doesn't just watch out for himself; he watches out for himself and every single other car on the road, so that he learns to anticipate potential problems and avoid them.

Skills like that aren't learned over time, they're taught in real driving school. Ask anyone who's been a professional driver or who rides a motorcycle what type of training they went through...I guarantee it was much more than that week-long joke of training we give our high schoolers. And until everyone on the road gets that level of training, we aren't going to see the numbers take much more than a tiny downturn, if any at all.
Posted By Anonymous Katrina, Raleigh, NC : 1:40 PM ET
Cell phones are an easy scapegoat because they are "new." I think the Utah study is flawed, just as the original Canadian survey was because these studies don't take into consideration OTHER distractions. Eating, for example. Coping with children and un-strapped-in kids are surely as much of a hazard. No one has suggested banning children from private vehicles. Or how about factoring in elderly drivers, who often exhibit a lack of awareness? And, as someone pointed out here, what's the diff. between talking to a passenger(s) and talking on your speakerphone?
Posted By Anonymous xtina - Chicago IL : 2:14 PM ET
The answer to this is very easy: everybody and I mean everybody who ever tried it -driving while talking on a cell phone- KNOWS the answer. That we're even still wondering about it is a testimony either of the cell phone companies' lobbying power or of the inertia of public safety watchdogs.
Posted By Anonymous Brigitte, Montreal, Canada : 7:31 AM ET
I work on a US military base in Germany. US military bases throughout the continental United States prohibit cell phone use while driving. The nation of Germany also prohibits the use of cell phones while driving, and I can say that I've never had any close calls with drivers using cell phones on military bases or anywhere within Germany. People just don't use them while driving, and it is wonderful. On the occasions I do return home to the United States I always find myself readjusting to the number of cell phone users on the road. I've seen both sides of this and laws prohibiting cell phone can be very effective. I also believe it would be a challenge to enforce laws like this, but just because something is a challenge doesn't mean we shouldn't do it.

It is obvious that cell phone use while driving is a hazard. Too many people have had accidents or near accidents with drivers using cell phones. The replies on this forum are a testament to that. Just because you haven't factored in distractions like eating, reaching for things, or talking to passengers, doesn't mean cell phone use while driving is any less hazardous or suddenly acceptable.
Posted By Anonymous Kyle, Danville, CA/Munich, GE : 8:24 AM ET
One of the main roles of the government is to protect its citizens. These US citizens pay or have paid taxes and should be afforded all protections of the US government.
Posted By Anonymous Will, Clark NJ : 2:46 PM ET
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