Cell Phones and Car Accidents: Jarring Statistics

I’ve been preaching about the perils of cell phone usage and, in particular, text messaging, because it is clear that 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 be rationalizing 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 of the subcategories: 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, estimated 955 fatalities caused from the use of cell phones. 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 are going to find it amazing that we were all driving around in cars talking on the phone. Is DWOCP (driving while on cell phone) the DWI of 2030? I think it is possible. Maybe not likely. But possible.

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