Estimates of motor vehicle accidents caused by device distractions are difficult to identify. Naturalistic studies that focus on behavior over a lengthy period of time consistently reveal that various phone-related activities while driving, including exiting, are linked to an increased risk of collisions. Talking while driving has evidence that is mixed at best, yet it still can occur.
One study revealed that in 2019, 3,142 people – or nine percent of all crash fatalities – lost their lives in motor vehicle crashes due to distractions being a contributing factor. One percent, or 422, were killed from cell phone use. The most likely demographic to be distracted to the point of crashing into another vehicle is under 30 years old.
Most experimental studies use driving simulators or vehicles with instruments installed to measure driver performance. Results saw cognitive distractions impacting how drivers scan and process information when cell phones were used, resulting in reduced reaction time. Speed, lane changes, or following distance were minimally affected, if at all.
Effectively suppressing brain activity can lead to “inattention blindness,” where occupied vehicles and pedestrians can suffer severe and potentially fatal injuries.
It should be noted that data reported by law enforcement are prone to underestimate fatal crashes due to cell phones because drivers are resistant to volunteer that information.
While laws are on the books to combat cell phone distractions, the problem will continue to put drivers at risk from their fellow travelers who cannot resist the lure of their smart devices.