NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 24, 2005

Young adults driving and talking on their cell phones have the same reaction times as 70-year-old drivers not using a cell phone, according to a new study published in Human Factors. Researchers confirm that talking on cell phones while driving dramatically slows reaction times and is the leading cause for increases in accidents and traffic jams.

The study included two groups, one of people aged 18 to 25 and another aged 65 to 74. From these two groups, researchers found:

  • Every year in the United States, at least 2,600 deaths and 330,000 injuries are caused by drivers distracted by cell phones.
  • Drivers talking on cell phones were 18 percent slower reacting to brake lights but kept a 12 percent greater following distance.
  • However, they also took 17 percent longer to regain speed lost after braking, which hinders the overall flow of traffic.

While older drivers seemed to be more cautious overall, they too had slower reaction times when talking on the phone. Researchers found that older drivers have a greater following distance which compensates for their impaired reactions.

A previous study conducted last year at University of Illinois proved that hands-free cell phones are just as distracting because drivers look but don't see because they are distracted by conversation. The director of the Illinois study, Arthur Kramer, stated that, "Both young adults and older adults tended to show deficits in performance. They made more errors in detecting important changes, and they took longer to react to the changes."

Source: Robert Roy Britt, "Drivers on cell phones kill thousands,", February 2, 2005; based upon: Source: David L. Strayer and Frank A. Drews, "Profiles in Driver Distraction: Effects of Cell Phone Conversations on Younger and Older Drivers," Vol. 46, Issue 4, Human Factors, Winter 2004.

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