Friday, November 11, 2005

Cell Phones v. Radios for Traffic Accidents

Traffic incidents majorly cause traumatic injuries death and disability. The NSC and NHTSA focus on guilty victim behavior - safety belts and drunk driving - rather than treating these risk behaviors as effect modifiers for endemic behaviors like speeding, running red lights, and endemic environmental risk factors such as two lane roads curving downhill at night in the rain.

Lately there's been a boom in attacking cell phone use rather than addressing the overall social and environmental hazards.

The paper below compares effect of the cell phone vs. using adjusting radios [entertainment systems]. It's Australian data, so culturally suspect. The investigators note:

In an analysis of crashes caused by distraction,
Stutts et al.
(2001) identified outside people, objects or
events as the source of
distraction in 30% of driver distraction
cases and adjusting the
radio/cassette as the source in 11.4% of
cases. These were the most
frequently cited categories. Mobile
phones were the source of the distraction
in 1.5% of cases.

This was an observational study comparing impact of cell phone use to radio adjustment on speed, deviations from speed limits, and response to hazards.

Results were generally the same, the following for distraction causing drivers to slow down:

Paired samples t-tests indicated that the entertainment system
distracter produced a significantly lower mean speed than both the
no distracter condition and the phone
distracter. As such, the entertainment system
was more distracting to participants than the telephone conversation.
The phone distracter and the no distracter conditions
were not significantly different from each other.


No one seriously thinks of removing radios from cars. Stopping cell phone use, or penalizing drivers who use cell phones may be more convenient, if not logical since the radio is the bigger problem. More importantly, neither addresses the more pervasive problems in the driving environment.

Accident Analysis and Prevention 38 (2006) 185–191

Driver distraction: The effects of concurrent in-vehicle tasks, road
environment complexity and age on driving performance

Tim Horberry a, Janet Anderson a,1, Michael A. Regan a, Thomas J. Triggs a, John Brownb
a Accident Research Centre, Monash University, Australia
b National Roads and Motorists’ Association, Australia

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