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Investigation of the Use of Mobile Phones
While Driving

Prepared by

Alasdair Cain
Mark Burris
Center for Urban Transportation Research
College of Engineering, University of South Florida
4202 E. Fowler Ave, CUT 100
Tampa, Florida 33620
April 1999

INVESTIGATION OF THE USE OF MOBILE PHONES
WHILE DRIVING
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
The number of mobile phone users in the U.S. has grown from 500,000 in 1985 to 63 million in 1998. This rapid growth has occurred largely without consideration of the mobile phone’s suitability for usage while driving. The objective of this report is to summarize existing information on the subject of mobile phone use while driving, in order to provide a concise summary of the issues for the public, researchers, and legislators alike. The report discusses the benefits of mobile phone usage while driving, such as driver safety and time use efficiency, and negative aspects such as its potential for driver distraction resulting in accidents.

The report contains information on the demographics of mobile phone use in the U.S., focusing on user demographics and frequency of usage while driving. Although once used primarily by high income business people, user demographics are now much more similar to the demographics of the U.S. population as a whole. Findings from literature on the subject of mobile phone use and driving performance are highly variable. In general, the literature shows that the effect of mobile phone use on driving is a complex issue with several influencing factors including the type of mobile phone used, the type of conversation undertaken, and the demographics of the user. In general, it was found that mobile phone use does have an adverse affect on driving performance, but the significance of the distraction is difficult to quantify. Reports found that people that used a mobile phone while driving were anywhere from 34 percent to 300 percent more likely to have an accident.

At present, only two states include specific “check boxes” on their accident investigation forms to identify mobile phone use as a factor in crashes. This report concludes that data collection on a national scale is the first, most important step to accurately evaluating the

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risk associated with mobile phone use, and therefore assessing the need for any legislative regulations on usage. Several countries have already banned mobile phone use while driving, and legislation has been proposed in nine states in the U.S. At the time of this report (April 1999), no U.S. legislation on this issue had progressed to become law. There are numerous reasons for this, including the lack of data to support any legislative action. Alternatively, laws may develop through civil court cases where mobile phone users, manufacturers, service providers, etc. are found liable for automobile accidents.

With mobile phone use likely to continue to increase in the future, the safety of driving while using a mobile phone will become a very important safety issue. Therefore, it is important to begin to collect better data on the risks associated with using a mobile phone while driving. In this manner, the need for legislation can be accurately measured, and, if legislation is needed, its extent, role, and effectiveness in saving lives can be better assessed.

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Table of Contents

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY ........................................................................................... I LIST OF TABLES ....................................................................................................... V 1. INTRODUCTION .................................................................................................. 1 1.1

1.2
1.3

BACKGROUND..................................................................................................... 1 REPORT CONTENT AND OBJECTIVES .................................................................... 2 DEFINITION OF “MOBILE PHONE”...
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