Distracted Driving: NEJM Study
Jacob Schor, ND
January 1, 2014
A new study will be published in the January 2, 2014 New England Journal of Medicine on the risks of driving while distracted, in particular dialing cell phones or texting on both novice and experienced drivers.
Researchers followed two groups of drivers by outfitting their cars with accelerometers, cameras, global positioning systems, and other sensors. One group consisted of 42 newly licensed drivers (16.3 to 17.0 years of age) and the second group consisted of 109 adults with plenty of driving experience.
Over the research period, that is while these drivers knew they were being watched, the novice drivers had 167 crashes or near-crashes. The experienced drivers racked up 518 crashes or near-crashes. Novice drivers were 8 times as likely to crash while dialing their phone, 7 times as likely while reaching for their phone and four times as likely while texting to have one of these mishaps.
Among experienced drivers, dialing a cell phone increased risk by 2.5 times.
Keep in mind that all of these drivers knew they were being watched. I don’t know about you, but I would drive more carefully if I knew I was on camera.
NEJM has a short online video summarizing the study:http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsa1204142?query=TOC
This data is interesting in light of the fact that road deaths increased by 5.3% in 2012 up to 34,080. This is the first increase since 2005. Road deaths had been decreasing since 2005, dropping by 26% from 2005 to 2011. The increase is blamed on the improving economy. People drove more miles in 2012 up 0.3% (or 9.1 billion miles). 
Of those 34,080 deaths, 3,328 were blamed on distracted drivers. It is estimated that during daylight hours, over 800,000 drivers are using hand-held cell phones.
Regulating whether or not people phone and drive is a state-by-state issue. The Federal government can not regulate the practice.
Currently, 41 States, the District of Columbia, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands ban text messaging for all drivers. Just 12 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving.
Colorado as most of our readers are well aware, isn’t among these states and driving, dialing, talking and texting appear to still be allowed. I won’t be surprised to hear that people in our state believe that the right to dial and drive is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights as Freedom of Speech.
On a slightly separate note, this is January 1 and most of our readers are also no doubt aware of the changes in our state’s laws that went into effect today. As our newspaper no longer carries the comic strip Doonesbury, you might want to check out the last few days of action in the strip as it’s all about us here in Colorado:
The NEJM Study:
Full text of study:http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsa1204142?query=TOC#t=article