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Is your cell phone trying to kill you?

Mike Elgan | Aug. 4, 2008
Banning or avoiding cell phones wouldn't make a noticeable dent in rates of accidents, diseases or behavioral problems in children.

What is it about cell phones that inspires a prominent scientist to ignore published scientific research and focus instead on what is essentially a hunch?

The accidental conclusion

I believe the majority of car accidents blamed on cell phones in fact have nothing to do with cell phones. Here's why.

Any time there's a car accident that happens while somebody is using a cell phone, the cell phone is blamed for the accident. That's just common sense, right? Well, not so fast.

In the United States, roughly 5% of the people driving cars at any given moment are using their cell phones. Unless using a cell phone actually prevents car accidents, you would expect that about 5% of the people who get into car accidents happen to be on the phone at the time of the accident. This 5% represents chance, not causation.

In other words, you can expect, statistically speaking, that 5% of all accidents will have a cell-phone driver just by chance; the cell phone didn't cause the accident. not as a causation.

There are about 6 million car accidents per year (and about 43,000 car accident fatalities). That means there should be about 300,000 car accidents per year where the driver was talking on the phone, but where that cell phone use did not *cause* the accident. Yet nearly all of those accidents are blamed on the cell phone. Sure, some unknown percentage of cell phone-related accidents are caused by the phone call, but the rest of the accidents involve a driver talking on the cell phone without that call actually causing the accident. Despite that, close to 100% of these will be blamed on the phone call.

In fact, investigators can't prove that a cell phone caused a driver to be distracted enough to cause an accident. (Nor can they prove that a driver distracted by daydreaming, listening to the radio or talking to another person inside the car caused an accident.) They can, however, prove that a driver was or was not talking on the phone at the time of a crash. And when they do, they assert cause, not coincidence, in almost every case.

Statistics prove that the number of crashes involving a cell phone talker has risen dramatically in the past 10 years. And why wouldn't it? Nobody used to use cell phones, and now everybody does.

Have all these accidents blamed on cell phones been added to previous causes for accidents, creating an ever-higher total number of accidents?

On the contrary, the rate of accidents, injuries and deaths from car accidents have all declined, this during a time of radical rise in cell phone use.


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