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Driving Distractions: An Investigation of the Safety Implications of Using Cellular Telephones While Operating a Motor Vehicle Reena Shah- Johns Hopkins University Anika Thomas- Morgan State University Lisa Wilson- UMBC

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Driving Distractions: An Investigation of the Safety Implications of Using Cellular Telephones While Operating a Motor Vehicle

Reena Shah- Johns Hopkins University

Anika Thomas- Morgan State University

Lisa Wilson- UMBC




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It’s a matter of dollars and sense ! Period January 1985 to December 2000

Today, the average monthly subscriber bill is half of what it was in 1987, making it far more affordable for ANYONE to own a cell phone



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61 percent of calls made by subscribers are of a personal nature

People are using their Cell Phones to Keep in Touch with Loved Ones



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Many cell phone owners purchased their phones solely for the SAFETY benefits that having a ready means of Communication provides


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Safety Benefits include:

  • Being able to call for help if vehicle is disabled

  • Calling for help in a Medical Emergency

  • Alerting authorities of hazardous road conditions

  • Obtaining directions when lost

  • Alerting authorities of crimes in progress


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Reasons for Concern

Every year 91 million people use their cell phones while driving


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Of these, 18 million drivers use their phones on each trip


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The NHTSA estimates that at any given moment, there are half a million drivers who are talking on hand-held cellular phones


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What Preliminary Studies have Revealed a million drivers who are talking on hand-held cellular phones

  • Talking on a cell phone can impair ability to adjust speed due to changes in overall traffic speed

  • Complex conversation leads to increased reaction time

  • Risk of having an accident increases by as much as four times when talking on a cell phone


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HOWEVER... a million drivers who are talking on hand-held cellular phones

Studies have not been widespread enough to provide evidence that proves without a doubt that using a cell phone increasesone’s risk of being in an accident...


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Evidence does indicate that talking a cell phone while driving may impair driving ability


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BUT driving

One thing everyone can agree on:

Talking on a cellular phone while driving vehicle can't make you a better driver!


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Improving Data Collection driving

This is the first step in determining whether using Cell Phones while driving presents a hazard to Maryland’s drivers


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Police Crash Reports driving

should include information on whether a Cell Phone played a role in the accident


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Statistical Data about Cell Phone Involvement in accidents can be used in creating Legislature that ensures safe driving conditions for all


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Possible Alternatives which can be Implemented to Lower the Risk of a Vehicular Accident while Talking on a Cell Phone

  • Total ban on cellular telephone use in motor vehicles

  • Technology Evaluation and Determination of Safer Alternatives for cell phone use in motor vehicles

  • Enforcement of Existing Reckless Driving/ Driver Inattention Laws; and imposing Harsher Penalties

  • Advocating Consumer Education to increase public awareness

  • Ban or limit the use of cellular phones for young drivers who are already have a higher accident risk


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1. Total Ban Risk of a Vehicular Accident while Talking on a Cell Phone

  • According to the New England Journal of Medicine, motor vehicle collisions are the leading cause of death in North America

  • They account for a fatality every 10 minutes

  • The study found that error on the part of drivers contributes to over 90 percent of occurrences of accidents

  • Driver error is usually a result of driver distraction


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This is the only foolproof solution to eliminate cellular phones as a distraction to drivers.

  • A cellular telephone can impair many aspects of driving performance, but most importantly, a driver’s attention to the road

  • Reaction time is slowed

  • When caught in a conversation, a driver’s situational awareness and judgement are impeded

  • Flexibility and the ability to maneuver a turn, take an evasive action, or avoid a driver who has cut into your lane is reduced


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Talking on a cell phone versus other distractions phones as a distraction to drivers.

  • The difference lies in that the driver’s reaction time is impeded when talking on the phone and situational awareness is diverted

  • Drivers react significantly slower to an unexpected event during a phone conversation and are unaware of traffic movements around them

  • Passengers in the car often alert drivers to dangerous situations, in sharp contrast to a person at the other end of the cellular phone who may not even be aware that the caller is driving and therefore will not react to a change in driving conditions


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The emotional or critical nature of a conversation is especially distracting to a driver. They can become lost in thought and may drift off the road.

It is clear that talking on the phone while driving drags a driver away from the immediate surroundings


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2. Technology Evaluation and Determination of Safer Alternatives for Cell Phone Use in Motor Vehicles

  • With the evolution of small, hand-held cellular telephones, there has been increasing concern regarding the ability of a driver to operate a vehicle safely with one hand, while holding and manipulating the phone with the other

  • Wireless companies have come up with many innovative solutions to minimize the effects of driving and talking on a cell phone.


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Hands-Free Technology Alternatives for Cell Phone Use in Motor Vehicles

  • AT&T Wireless is pressing cell phone makers to include "ear buds," receivers that fit into the ear and dangle a microphone, with every phone they sell.

  • Verizon Wireless is requiring phone manufacturers to include built-in speakerphones and voice-activated dialing by 2002


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3. Enforcing Existing Laws and Increasing Penalties to Ensure Safer Driving Habits

  • Maryland has laws about reckless and negligent driving

  • Punishment is a notoriously poor motivator unless it is swift, reasonably severe, and very certain

  • Enforcement of negligent and reckless driving does not currently fulfill any of these three criteria


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4. Consumer Education Ensure Safer Driving Habits

  • There is widespread agreement that a public education campaign should be undertaken which addresses the implications of driving while talking on a cellular phone

  • The distraction potential of cellular phones may be minimized if users are aware of the hazards and use cellular technology wisely


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Employers Should Play an Important Role in Education Ensure Safer Driving Habits

  • Workers are more likely to die from traffic accidents than any other job hazard

  • Business calls are more likely to distract drivers than simple conversations

  • Employers who allow their employees to use their cellular phones while driving may be held liable for a crash


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More Than Consumer Education is Necessary Ensure Safer Driving Habits

Past experiences with drunk driving and seat belts have shown that education alone does not substantially alter a driver’s behavior


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5. Young Drivers Ensure Safer Driving Habits

  • Young drivers are especially vulnerable to being in a vehicular accident

  • Distractions can be dangerous for all drivers. They are an outright hazard for young drivers

  • Young drivers are not motivated to avoid risks and lack the experience to effective gauge risky driver behavior

  • Maryland has been a leader in enacting legislation to protect its young drivers


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