Preliminary research developing a theory of cell phone distraction and social relationships

Accid Anal Prev. 2016 Jan;86:155-60. doi: 10.1016/j.aap.2015.10.023. Epub 2015 Nov 10.


Motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death and injury for people aged 5-34, accounting annually for over 3000 deaths, and 100 times as many injuries. It is well established that distracted driving, and cell phone use while driving in particular, pose significant crash risk to drivers. Research has demonstrated that drivers are well aware of this danger but over 90% of drivers report using a cell phone while driving. Given the likely role that social influence plays in how people use cell phones while driving surprisingly little research has been conducted investigating to whom drivers are talking or texting. We report the results of a national survey to determine who drivers are most likely to call or text when behind the wheel and compared these results with general cell phone calling and texting patterns as well as previous findings on the prevalence of calling and texting while driving. The results suggest that social distance is a key factor in cell phone use while driving: Teens are more likely to talk with parents, and adults are more likely to talk with spouses than general calling patterns would suggest. We discuss whether the purpose of calls made while driving, such as coordination, could help explain these patterns. We propose next steps for further examining the role social relationships play in cell phone use while driving to potentially reduce teen driver cell phone use by lowering the number of calls from parents.

Keywords: Cell phone; Distracted driving; Intervention; Safety; Social distance; Teen driving.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / psychology*
  • Accidents, Traffic / statistics & numerical data*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Automobile Driving / psychology*
  • Cell Phone / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Psychological Distance
  • Psychological Theory*
  • Risk
  • Text Messaging / statistics & numerical data*