Cell Phones Remain Huge Cause of Distraction, Car Accidents, Study Shows

Cell phone use while driving is banned in many states, including Washington, California and New York, unless they have a bluetooth device for calls. In a recent study by Jennifer M. Whitehill, PhD, even anticipating a call or text can distract drivers and cause an accident.

Whitehall, a postdoctoral fellow at Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center at the University of Washington in Seattle, along with her colleagues, recently released a study titled “Driven to Distraction,” in which they endeavored to determine if compulsive cell phone use can lead to motor vehicle crashes.

Senior author Beth E. Ebel, MD, MSc, MPH, FAAP, and director of the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center, stated that:

“Young drivers continue to use cell phones in the car, despite the known risk of crash. We were interested to explore how cell phone use contributes to distracted driving and to begin to understand the relationship between the driver and the phone.”

The study enlisted 384 students, who took an online survey, which involved questions about driving history, prior crashes while driving, and items which assessed risk behaviors and the person’s psychological profile.

They also completed the Cell Phone Overuse Scale (CPOS), which is a 24-item instrument that assesses four aspects of problematic cell phone usage, including frequent anticipation of calls/messages, interferance with normal activities (e.g. impacting friends/family), a strong emotional reaction to their cell phone, and recognizing problem use.


Results of the two surveys combined showed that for each point increase on the CPOS, there was about a 1 percent increase in the number of previous car accidents. Of the four aspects of compulsive cell phone use, a higher level of call/message anticipation seemed to significantly increase crash rates, according to previous data.

Dr. Whitehall stated that:

“We know it is important to prevent young drivers from taking their hands off the wheel and eyes off the road to use a cell phone. This study suggests that thinking about future cell phone calls and messages may be an additional source of distraction that could contribute to crashes.”