Drivers and Cell Phones

Drivers talking on cell phones are nearly twice as likely as other drivers involved in crashes to have rear-end collisions. HSRC conducted a statewide telephone survey during the early summer of 2002 and targeted 500 users and 150 non-users of cell phones. All participants were licensed North Carolina drivers ages 18 and older. Key findings from the survey include the following:

  • An estimated 58.8 percent of the state’s licensed drivers have used a cell phone while driving.
  • Cell phone use levels were highest among drivers in the 25-39 and 40-54 year age categories. Other demographic characteristics, including driver gender, race and vehicle type, did not differ significantly for users versus non-users, although a higher proportion of users than non-users drove sport utility vehicles.
  • The average reported time per day spent talking on a cell phone while driving was 14.5 minutes; while the median reported time was much lower at 5.0 minutes. Talk time decreased with increasing age, and was higher for males than for females.
  • One in four users reported having a hands-free device, although they did not always use the device when talking on their cell phones.
  • Users generally perceived talking on cell phones while driving to be less distracting and less of a safety concern than did non-users. Users were also less likely than non-users to support legislation that would prohibit anything other than hand-held phone use, and were less likely to support stricter penalties for cell phone users involved in crashes.

The study Cell Phone Use While Driving in North Carolina: 2002 Update Report was sponsored by the NC Governor's Highway Safety Program. As a part of the study, investigators identified cell phone-related crashes by running computerized searches for collision reports in which officers specifically mentioned the telephones in their descriptions of each the crash. A special two-month data collection effort by the N.C. Highway Patrol found that of the 29 identified cases, all but one involved a hand-held phone. Most occurred while drivers were talking on their phones but some involved reaching for, dialing, getting ready to dial, answering or picking up dropped phones or hanging up. Based on the special data collection activity, the authors estimated that at least 1,475 cell phone-related crashes occur annually on North Carolina roadways.