Cell phones are a danger on the road in more ways than one. Two new studies show that talking on the phone while traveling, whether you're driving or on foot, is increasing both pedestrian deaths and those of drivers and passengers, and recommend crackdowns on cell use by both pedestrians and drivers. The new studies, lead-authored by Rutgers University, Newark, Economics Professor Peter D. Loeb, relate the impact of cell phones on accident fatalities to the number of cell phones in use, showing that the current increase in deaths attributed to cell phone use follows a period when cell phones actually helped to reduce pedestrian and traffic fatalities. However, this reduction in fatalities disappeared once the numbers of phones in use reached a "critical mass" of 100 million, the study found.
These studies looked at cell phone use and motor vehicle accidents from 1975 through 2002, and factored in a number of variables, including vehicle speed, alcohol consumption, seat belt use, and miles driven.
The studies found the cell phone-fatality correlation to be true even when weighing in factors such as speed, alcohol consumption, and seat belt use.
Loeb and his co-author determined that, at the current time, cell phone use has a "significant adverse effect on pedestrian safety" and that "cell phones and their usage above a critical threshold adds to motor vehicle fatalities." In the late 1980s and part of the 1990s, before the numbers of phones exploded, cell phone use actually had a "life-saving effect" in pedestrian and traffic accidents, Loeb notes. "Cell-phone users' were able to quickly call for medical assistance when involved in an accident. This quick medical response actually reduced the number of traffic deaths for a time," Loeb hypothesizes.
However, this was not the case when cells were first used in the mid-1980s, when they caused a "life-taking effect" among pedestrians, drivers and passengers in vehicles. In those e
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