NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Cell Phones not Main Causes of Vehicle Accidents

March 25, 2003

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles and Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond conducted a study about the cause of traffic accidents. More than 2,700 crash scenes and 4,500 drivers were studied in what may be the most comprehensive looked at what causes vehicle accidents and their disastrous effects.

The study found that it's not cell phones that cause us to become so distracted while driving that we have a crash. Rather, it's old-fashioned rubbernecking that is our top driving distraction. In fact, cell phones aren't even in the top five.

  • Fully 62 percent of the crashes involving driver distraction occurred in rural areas.
  • Top distractions in rural areas were driver fatigue, insects, animals and unrestrained pets.
  • Top distractions in urban areas were rubbernecking, traffic, other vehicles and cell phones.

The main cause of accidents was looking at a previous crash, vehicle, roadside incident or traffic -- accounting for 16 percent of accidents. Driver fatigue accounted for 12 percent while looking at scenery or landmarks accounted for 10 percent.

Another problem was passenger distraction (9 percent) including that caused by children. Adjusting radio or changing CD or tape caused 7 percent while cell phone only caused 5 percent. Other causes were the usual: including eyes not on the road (4.5 percent), not paying attention, daydreaming (4 percent), eating or drinking (4 percent), adjusting vehicle controls (4 percent).

Surprisingly, weather conditions, insect, animal,or object entering or striking vehicle, reading (book, map, directions, or newspaper), unknown factors or medical or emotional impairment caused the rest all together only accounted for 10 percent.

Source: Cathryn Conroy, "Unexpected! No. 1 Driving Distraction," Netscape Network News, March 24, 2003.

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