| Mobile menace'
Detroit, July 14: A study of Australian drivers found that those using cellphones were four times as likely to be involved in a serious crash regardless of whether they used hands-free devices like earpieces or speaker phones that have been perceived as making talking while driving safer.
The study, which appears in The British Medical Journal, is the first of its kind to use actual crash data and cellphone records to show a link between talking on the phone and being seriously injured in an accident.
It is also the first to conclude definitively outside of a laboratory setting that holding a phone to the ear or talking through a hands-free device pose the same risks.
Because cellphone records are not considered public information, a similar study has not been conducted in the US.
The new study examined the cellphone records of 744 drivers who had accidents in Perth, Australia, where drivers are required to use hands-free devices.
Researchers estimated the time of the crash and looked at whether the driver used a cellphone in the minutes leading up to the accident. They then examined similar time intervals in the days before the crash to calculate the increased risk of using the cellphone.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a non-profit research group in Virginia, sent researchers to three hospitals in Perth during a two-year period from 2002 to 2004 to interview crash victims.
“There is no safety advantage associated with switching to the types of hands-free devices that are commonly in use,” the study concludes.
The Australian research and other recent studies show it is the act of talking, not holding a phone, that is most distracting.
“There just doesn’t seem to be any safety benefit by restricting drivers to hands-free phones,” said Rae Tyson, a spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “It’s the cognitive overload that sometimes occurs when you’re engaging in a conversation that is the source of the distraction more so than the manipulation of the device.”
Paul A. Green, a scientist at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, said studies like this could exert influence on lawmakers. “They’re most convinced by the tombstone count,” he said.