from the counterintuitive dept
But as for talking while driving, we've all heard the stories about studies saying that drivers who talk while driving are as bad, if not worse, than drunk drivers. However, some new empirical research is calling that into question. johnjac points us to some new research that showed as more people used phones while driving, the number of accidents actually went down. Of course, this is just a (negative) correlation, and there are obviously lots of confounding factors, so I wouldn't (as the link above does) claim that driving while yakking makes the roads safer.
However, another part of the study does dig into this even more. It got access to mobile phone data, which allowed them to separate out those who were driving (based on changing towers often), and compared the number of phone calls just before 9pm and just after 9pm, when many mobile phone operators had call fees drop. They found that the number of calls jumped, but studying the data of car accidents right before and right after 9pm, they found no evidence of an increase.
The economists who did the study suggested a few possible explanations:
People who start talking while driving become more cautious. People who act like jackholes behind the wheel with a cellphone will act the same without one. And although cellphones clearly distract some drivers, they may also help other drivers stay alert.Frankly, there may be some other explanations as well -- starting with the fact that at 9pm, there isn't likely to be that much traffic on the roads. I wonder what a similar study would show closer to rush hour (if there were such a natural experiment where there might be a sudden jump in calls). If the roads are less congested, then the "danger" is probably much lower. Also, just because a phone is moving, it doesn't mean the person holding it is driving -- they could be passengers. So I'm not exactly ready to agree that this report really says what the authors claim, but it certainly is an interesting study to look at.