Wireless telephones and the risk of road crashes

Accid Anal Prev. 2003 Sep;35(5):649-60. doi: 10.1016/s0001-4575(02)00043-x.


In light of the rapidly increasing development of the cell phone market, the use of such equipment while driving raises the question of whether it is associated with an increased accident risk; and if so, what is its magnitude. This research is an epidemiological study on two large cohorts, namely users and non-users of cell phones, with the objective of verifying whether an association exists between cell phone use and road crashes, separating those with injuries. The Société de l'Assurance Automobile du Québec (SAAQ) mailed a questionnaire and letter of consent to 175000 licence holders for passenger vehicles. The questionnaire asked about exposure to risk, driving habits, opinions about activities likely to be detrimental to driving and accidents within the last 24 months. For cell phone users, questions pertaining to the use of the telephone were added. We received 36078 completed questionnaires, with a signed letter of consent. Four wireless phone companies provided the files on cell phone activity, and the SAAQ the files for 4 years of drivers' records and police reports. The three data sources were merged using an anonymized identification number. The statistical methods include logistic-normal regression models to estimate the strength of the links between the explanatory variables and crashes. The relative risk of all accidents and of accidents with injuries is higher for users of cell phones than for non-users. The relative risks (RR) for injury collisions and also for all collisions is 38% higher for men and women cell phone users. These risks diminish to 1.1 for men and 1.2 for women if other variables, such as the kilometres driven and driving habits are incorporated into the models. Similar results hold for several sub-groups. The most significant finding is a dose-response relationship between the frequency of cell phone use, and crash risks. The adjusted relative risks for heavy users are at least two compared to those making minimal use of cell phones; the latter show similar collision rates as do the non-users.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / statistics & numerical data*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Automobile Driving / statistics & numerical data*
  • Cell Phone / statistics & numerical data*
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Population Surveillance
  • Quebec / epidemiology
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk-Taking
  • Sex Distribution