New statistics continue to back up the risks associated with using a cell phone or text messaging while driving, with a growing number of car accidents resulting in serious injury or death as a result of distracted driving.
In a report released in September in the American Journal of Public Health, data gleaned from the National Center for Statistics and Analysis reveal that auto accident deaths related to cell phone use and texting while driving have increased 28%; from 4,572 deaths in 2005 to 5,870 in 2008. Texting-while-driving has killed an estimated 16,000 people from 2001 through 2007.
The report follows an editorial earlier this summer in the New England Journal of Medicine in which Dr. Amy Ship of Beth Israel said that the time had come for doctors to begin warning their patients about the dangers of distracted driving. The message came after it was announced that distracted driving had become a leading cause of auto injuries and road fatalities, accounting for 28% of all auto accidents, according to the National Safety Council.
Ship pointed out that the risks of talking on the cell phone, even if you are talking using a hands-free device, are about the same as driving drunk according to some studies.
The editorial was published shortly after the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved a bill that would give incentives to states with distracted driving laws. The number of states that have passed such laws is growing, with 28 alone having texting-while-driving bans in place, as well as other cell phone use restrictions while driving.
Although the legislation is designed to reduce the risk of distracted driving accidents, some have pointed out that it is still unclear whether the laws will help, as even drivers using hands-free devices are distracted and causing accidents.
In August, a study by scientists at the University of Alabama found that drivers using hands-free devices were involved in accidents at the same rate as those using electronic devices without hands-free hardware. According to a report by WebMD, researchers evaluated 110 college students and found no statistical difference between those who used hands-free devices and those who did not when it came to traffic accidents. However, those who were using hands-free devices did get less traffic tickets than those who stuck to hand-held cell phones. The researchers speculate that those who took the time to purchase a hands-free device may be more conscientious drivers.