Accidents caused by cell phone use fairly rare

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Published: July 30,2001

The potential for cell phone users who talk while driving to be distracted and cause an accident has been in the news recently with a ban on driving while talking on a hand-held cell phone in New York. But studies show other distractions, ones that aren’t covered by legislation, cause far more accidents.

A new study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that less than 2% of accidents caused by distracted driving involved a cell phone.

The leading causes of distraction were:

• Outside object, person, event: 19.7%.

• Eating and drinking: 18.8%.

• Adjusting radio, cassette, CD: 11.4%.

• Other occupant in vehicle: 9.4%.

• Moving object in vehicle: 3.2%.

• Using/dialing cell phone: 1.5%.

Most people who spend much time on the highway see frequent examples of someone talking on a cell phone neglecting to pay attention to his or her driving. But there isn’t yet a clearcut case that accidents caused by cell phone distraction is leading to increased insurance rates.

“Right now we don’t know what impact cellular phone use has had on our claims experience,” said Abraxas Abrams, public affairs specialist for State Farm Insurance in Jackson. “We don’t know which of our policy holders are cell phone users while driving. But we have seen no evidence that cell phone use has led to higher overall premiums. If people choose to use cell phones while driving, we hope they don’t allow them to become a distraction. We do suggest that people pull off the road while using their cell phones.”

Abrams said currently State Farm Insurance is taking a closer look at the cell phone issue to see how it affects their business operation.

The Insurance Information Institute (III) is concerned that drivers who are distracted by talking on a cell phone or dialing numbers while they are driving are causing more and more accidents. In addition to New York state, some municipalities have banned using cell phones while driving because it has caused such a major problem.

“If you must talk while you drive, the safest way is to have a hands-free cell phone cradle installed in your car so you can speak while driving with two hands,” the III recommends. “Even so, remember to stay aware of what is going on around you on the road. It’s easy to get so engrossed in conversation that you miss exits or don’t notice what other drivers are doing. Better yet, wait until you have arrived at your destination or pull over to the side of the road to begin your cell phone conversations.”

Kerrin Roberts, spokesman for Cingular Wireless, said more and more people are opting for hands-free devices for using a cell phone while driving.

“A recent survey conducted by Cingular Wireless indicates that an impressive 34% of wireless phone users rely on hands-free devices while driving,” Roberts said.

Cingular has a public service campaign called Be Sensible (www.be-sensible.com) that is designed to educate and remind consumers about safe and courteous ways of using mobile phones. Roberts said the campaign that includes tips for safe driving while using a cell phone is advertised during peak travel times of the year such as the Fourth of July, Labor Day and Thanksgiving.

“During those times Cingular has promotions to significantly discount hands-free speaker phone kits,” Roberts said. “So the company’s position is that people who are driving should be looking to use hands free devices.”

The company is also working as a partner with the National Safety Council to produce safe driving videos to educate teens in driver education classes. The video’s purpose is to teach young drivers how to use a cell phone responsibly and safely in the car.

“We believe that education and the enforcement of existing laws is the most effective way to deal with the overall issue of driver distraction,” Roberts said. “The overwhelming preponderance of scientific studies indicates that wireless communication represents a small fraction of driver distractions. Drivers need to be aware of that other sources of distractions such as drinking and adjusting the radio are a much higher cause of accidents than cell phone use.”

Roberts said Cingular is also promoting cell phone courtesy. For example, cell phone users are requested to set their cell phones to silent or vibrating mode when they are in movies, restaurants and theaters.

Cingular Wireless and other cellular providers are working with the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) to fully examine this important issue, Roberts said.

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.


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