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Cell Phone Use While Driving Ups Crash Risk

Study Shows Risk Similar for Handheld and Hands-Free Phones

WebMD Health News

July 12, 2005 -- Drivers who talk on a mobile phone are four times more likely to be involved in a serious crash, according to a new study.

Researchers found people who used a hands-free or regular handheld cell phone while driving were four times more likely to be involved in a serious crash within 10 minutes of the conversation.

Many states have enacted laws that prohibit using a handheld cell phone while driving in hopes of reducing the risk of accidents. But researchers say these results suggest that hands-free cell phone users are no safer.

The results of the study appear in the July 12 issue of the British Medical Journal.

Hands-Free vs. Handheld

In the study, researchers analyzed cell phone use among 456 drivers aged 17 or over in Perth, Western Australia, who owned or used a cell phone and had been involved in an automobile crash serious enough to merit a trip to the hospital.

Researchers compared cell phone use five and 10 minutes before the crash to other driving trips at the same time of day in the week before the crash.

Although it is illegal to use a handheld cell phone while driving in Western Australia, researchers found that one in three of all calls were placed on handheld phones.

The results showed that drivers' use of a cell phone within a period up to 10 minutes before the time of the crash was associated with a fourfold greater risk of crashing. The risk associated with using a handheld cell phone was only slightly higher than the risk associated with using a hands-free device (4.9 vs. 3.8 times increased risk).

This increase in crash risk associated with cell phone use was found regardless of the sex or age of the driver.

Researchers write that the use of mobile phones is associated with an increased likelihood of serious road crashes. Currently available hands-free devices do not seem to reduce the risk, they conclude.

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