Study Analyzes Cell Phone Use by Drivers

Posted on December 1, 2002
A new study by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis (HCRA), a research organization dedicated to promoting public health, estimates that cell phone use by drivers results in as many as 2,600 deaths, 570,000 injuries and 1.5 million instances of property damage in the United States per year. The range of uncertainty in the evaluation is wide, however, because of limited data. The estimate of deaths ranges between 800 and 8,000 per year, and the estimate of injuries is between 100,000 and 1 million per year. On average, motorists use cell phones between 300 and 1,200 minutes per year. Assuming a typical usage time of 600 minutes per year, HCRA finds that the risk of death to a driver using a cell phone, is approximately 13 per million drivers. The risk of death to other roadway users is approximately four per million per year. The numbers reveal that there is a risk of death or injury for drivers, passengers and pedestrians. HCRA’s analysis also compared the monetary benefits and costs of a complete ban on cell phone use by drivers. The benefits of a ban would be worth approximately $43 billion in reduced property damage and medical costs. Those savings would be roughly offset by the economic value of the banned calls, also around $43 billion annually, or $340 per cell phone user per year. “The central values indicate that a ban on the use of cell phones by drivers would be a wash when comparing the benefit of reducing crashes against the cost of eliminating those calls,” said Joshua Cohen, HCRA senior research scientist.
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