Background: Because of a belief that the use of cellular telephones while driving may cause collisions, several countries have restricted their use in motor vehicles, and others are considering such regulations. We used an epidemiologic method, the case-crossover design, to study whether using a cellular telephone while driving increases the risk of a motor vehicle collision.
Methods: We studied 699 drivers who had cellular telephones and who were involved in motor vehicle collisions resulting in substantial property damage but no personal injury. Each person's cellular-telephone calls on the day of the collision and during the previous week were analyzed through the use of detailed billing records.
Results: A total of 26,798 cellular-telephone calls were made during the 14-month study period. The risk of a collision when using a cellular telephone was four times higher than the risk when a cellular telephone was not being used (relative risk, 4.3; 95 percent confidence interval, 3.0 to 6.5). The relative risk was similar for drivers who differed in personal characteristics such as age and driving experience; calls close to the time of the collision were particularly hazardous (relative risk, 4.8 for calls placed within 5 minutes of the accident, as compared with 1.3 for calls placed more than 15 minutes before the accident; P<0.001); and units that allowed the hands to be free (relative risk, 5.9) offered no safety advantage over hand-held units (relative risk, 3.9; P not significant). Thirty-nine percent of the drivers called emergency services after the collision, suggesting that having a cellular telephone may have had advantages in the aftermath of an event.
Conclusions: The use of cellular telephones in motor vehicles is associated with a quadrupling of the risk of a collision during the brief time interval involving a call. Decisions about regulation of such telephones, however, need to take into account the benefits of the technology and the role of individual responsibility.