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Cell Phones and Car Accidents: Jarring Statistics

I’ve been preaching about the perils of cell phone usage and, in particular, text messaging because cell phone usage causes car crashes.

There is a bit of hypocrisy in this. I use the cell phone in the car. I justify this because I keep both hands on the steering wheel while using my Bluetooth. But, arguably at least, the problem is the conversation itself, which means I might rationalize when, in fact, I’m no safer than anyone else. Adding to the hypocrisy: I don’t talk on the cell phone when my kids are in the car.

Anyway, the Washington Post today offered data that estimates the tab for cell phone usage: 342,000 auto accident injuries and $43 billion each year in property damage, lost wages, medical bills, and fatalities.

I’m not impressed by the $43 billion. The stimulus package and the money we have all lent/given to AIG have made us all numb to the word billion. But 342,000 accidents? That number is incredible. The more important statistic is one subcategory: the number of fatal accidents. The last data I saw, which was the National Highway Safety Administration’s data from 2003 that was just recently released, the use of cell phones causes about 955 fatalities. This could be an underestimation; an article Human Factors and Ergonomics Society published in 2005 suggested that there are 2,600 cell phone distraction-related deaths a year.

If you are my age, you find it hard to imagine in hindsight that our parents did not put us in car seats when we were kids. I wonder if my kids will find it amazing that we were all driving around in cars talking on the phone. Is DWOCP (driving while on a cell phone) the DWI of 2030? I think it is possible. Maybe not likely. But possible.

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