So via Slashdot comes a news story about a study done at the University of Utah that purports to show that a person on a cell phone drives like someone who is drunk. I don’t think this is actually the case. I think there are very common-sense grounds for questioning the study.
The study claims that talking on a cell phone, even with a hands-free unit, causes one to have the same problems driving as someone with a blood alcohol of 0.08%. Everybody’s first reaction to this observation is, “those darn cell phone drivers,” but our second reaction should be, “wait a minute.”
If cell phone use is so dangerous then where are all the dead people?
Cell phone use has expanded dramatically in the last 10 years, yet there hasn’t been a corresponding increase in traffic accidents, injuries or fatalities. 0.08% is the legal blood-alcohol limit in many states today. Alcohol is a contributing factor in 35%-45% of all accidents. A sharp rise in the number of drunk drivers would instantly cause a sharp rise in the number of accidents. If cell phone use mimics drunk driving then the accident statistics should rise just as if we suddenly had a massive influx of drunk drivers.
The statistics on accidents do not show anything like that. Accident rates have actually been dropping over the entire time that cell phone use has been soaring. Clearly the supposition that using a cell phone while driving is just as dangerous as driving drunk is not true.
Cell phone use may measurably impair drivers in the lab but for whatever reason that does not translate into more real world accidents. Using this study as the basis for laws would be foolish.