New research suggests mobile phones may make some road-users pay more attention.
Using your phone behind the wheel may not be as dangerous as we've been lead to believe.
Despite existing research stating that driving while using your mobile phone could be as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol, new research has found the link between mobile phone use and car crashes may have been overestimated.
A study by economists from the University of Chicago and the London School of Economics used data from a Californian mobile phone company and compared it to crash statistics over an 11 day period, and found that despite a rise in phone calls made on the move, no significant correlation was found.
The findings matched roving call data (by monitoring phones moving between phone towers) with crash reports at specific times when it could be proved that the number of drivers on the road using their phone increased, but over the research period there was no increase in reported crashes.
Furthermore, when the researchers looked further afield to other US states, there was still no significant rise in crash reports despite higher moving mobile phone use.
The researchers concluded that there are three possible explanations for the outcome:
- people who talk on their phone while driving may become more cautious of other road-users
- people who have no regard for other road-users will still drive the same whether they're using a phone or not
- while mobiles may distract some, they may actually make other drivers more alert
While the finding is an interesting one, the researchers are not condoning using your phone when you drive.
"We note that this research does not imply that cell phone use is innocuous," the report states. "It simply implies that current cellular use by drivers does not appear to cause a rise in crashes.
"It is possible that drivers who use such devices compensate for the added distraction by driving more carefully," the report says. "Alternatively, it could be that risk loving drivers may treat cell phones as a substitute for other, equally debilitating, distractions. Finally, because we measure a local average treatment effect, it could be that cell phones are dangerous for certain drivers or driving conditions, and are countervailingly beneficial for others."
The report concludes with a suggestion for further research into driver mobile phone use, including the influence of mobile usage across different drivers and in different driving conditions.