Strong opinions, weakly held

Cell phones make you more likely to crash, but …

Efforts to stop people from using their mobile phones while they’re driving are stepping up lately, thanks in part to Oprah Winfrey’s efforts to warn people of how dangerous it is. She did an episode on the topic last week, and it’s up for free online. Today, she asked people to celebrate her birthday by taking her No Phone Zone pledge.

The science would appear to be on Oprah’s side. Researchers have found that people talking on the phone are four times more likely to crash their car than they would be otherwise, but neither the increasing use of cell phones nor subsequent bans have had any measurable effect on overall crash numbers.

Having used my phone to talk and check email in the car, I’m completely convinced that I don’t drive as safely when I do it, and I’m trying to cut it out. Even so, I’m fascinated by the discrepancy in the numbers.


  1. Why the “but”? It doesn’t seem particularly surprising or remarkable to me. It just means that on the whole, most people spend very little time talking on the phone while driving. What you are saying is kind of like “I’m going to make a point of wearing my seatbelt, although it’s fascinating how few traffic deaths are due to people not wearing their seatbelt”. The fact that people rarely endanger themselves so directly doesn’t change the fact that for those that do, the risks are greatly increased.

    You should avoid the phone while driving for your own sake, not for the sake of the statistics.

  2. Part of the discrepancy seems to be in the last-second catch. Your senses wrenching you to something you ought to pay attention to vs. the phone, namely, the stopped traffic. Instead of crashes, I wonder if we’d see that near-accidents were higher and the smart actions of other drivers were keeping true accidents down.

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