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Cell Phone Car Accidents

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Driving while using a cell phone, more popularly known as "Driving While Yakking"(DWY), causes thousands of accidents, injuries and deaths each year. Armed with an overwhelming number of reports demonstrating the perils of DWY, a growing number of prominent organizations — including the National Safety Council and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety — have recently rallied behind the push for a nationwide ban of this dangerous practice. In addition, a proposed bill in Congress would penalize states that fail to enact such a ban with a 25 percent cut in federal highway funding.

While many states have enacted laws banning driving while texting, only a handful of states and the District of Columbia have instituted bans on driving while talking on handheld devices and none have instituted comprehensive bans that include all communication devices. Nonetheless, any failure to focus on the road that leads to someone else's harm may be considered negligence and therefore grounds for a personal injury lawsuit. If you or a loved one has suffered a traumatic brain injury or other injury in a vehicular accident caused by someone engaged in a cell phone conversation while driving, it is very important that you contact a personal injury attorney. You and your family may be entitled to compensation in the form of a settlement or court award for pain and suffering, as well as medical bills and other expenses.

The Campaign for DWY Laws

The push for laws banning the use of cell phones and other communication devices while driving comes on the heels of numerous high-profile collisions, deaths and injuries, as well as a mountain of statistics highlighting the dangers of driving while distracted (DWD).

The fight began in earnest in 2004, after a terrifying school bus accident caused by a bus driver speaking on his cell phone. Following the accident, which injured 11 students, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended a ban on cell phone use for bus drivers.


Hands-free Phones

Drivers are four times more likely to get in an accident when using a cell phone, even if it's hands-free, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Statistics from the Automobile Association of America's Foundation for Traffic Safety, as well as other organizations, back this up.

Several factors account for driver distraction caused by hands-free devices. Drivers often have trouble getting their earpieces to fit or hold properly. In addition, handless communication devices are notorious for volume problems and inconsistent reception. All of this leads to inattention on the part of drivers using hands-free devices, who spend their time fiddling with earpieces rather than focusing on the road.

The statistics relating to DWY are impressive, with numerous reports showing that cell phone use while driving is highly dangerous. This includes a recent study from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, which showed that car and truck drivers are about six times more likely to be involved in an accident while dialing or reaching for a communication device. Other reports have uncovered the reasons behind this increased risk, including one study which demonstrated that drivers engaged in cell phone conversations are 18 percent slower in reacting to brake lights; the same report showed that cell phone users are more likely to make mistakes than drunk drivers with blood alcohol levels above .08 — the threshold for driving under the influence in most states. (To learn about the implications of a DUI arrest, including the price for DWI bail, visit the DUI section of this website.)

In addition, an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) analysis showed that 120 studies had demonstrated an association between mental distractions such as cell phone use and reduced driver performance. Among the factors affected by cell phone use were the following:

  • Speed
  • Reaction time
  • Lane changes
  • Steering wheel use

Other studies have found that using handless devices such as the Bluetooth do nothing to reduce the risk of an auto accident wreck, and one report showed that phone numbers recited by automated voice systems are even more distracting than information appearing on a display.2

Cell phone use may be reversing the strides made since the 1960s toward improving the safety of our roadways. As early as 2005, statistics showed 2,600 deaths and 330,000 injuries were caused each year by cell phone distraction.3 As a result, the push to ban certain forms of DWD has been compared to the famous car safety campaigns of the 20th century, including the campaign to mandate the use of seatbelts and to establish a nationwide blood alcohol content limit of .08.

Apparently, these arguments have not persuaded opponents of DWD laws. While current studies invariably demonstrate the danger of talking while driving, some advocates continue to argue against the elimination of "personal freedoms" such as DWY. Others defend the practice by pointing out the degree to which people now depend on cell phones. Many of these advocates represent the cell phone industry. In California, one of the first states to enact legislation mandating that drivers use handless devices, cell phone carriers such as AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint all lobbied against the law. One notable exception was Verizon, which supported the law.

Cell Phone Tips

Below are some tips for avoiding cell phone related accidents:

  • Know your phone and its features
  • Use the speed dial function whenever possible
  • Avoid making calls in bad weather or heavy traffic
  • Don't look up things on your phone while driving
  • Avoid long conversations
  • Pull over before placing a phone call, and place the call while at a stop
  • Ask for help from other passengers in your car
  • Avoid stressful conversations while driving


On the other side of the coin are safety advocates and family members of those injured or killed in DWD-related accidents. Pressure by these groups contributed to the Department of Transportation's decision, in the fall of 2009, to hold a two-day conference in order to assess the risks associated with DWY and other types of driving distractions. Some family members have also filed lawsuits and reached settlements with the parties responsible for the injuries and deaths of their loved ones.

Current DWY Laws

The crusade against cell phone use while driving has also led a number of states to enact anti-DWY laws.

More states have banned the use of cell phones by bus drivers and minors, and several have passed laws prohibiting texting while driving. To view the current status of DWD laws in your state, see the graph at the website of the Governor's Highway Safety Association (GHSA).

Settlements in Accidents Caused by Cell Phone Use

If you or a family member has suffered a closed head injury or other bodily harm in a DWY-related accident, it is important that you consult with a personal injury lawyer who can educate you on car accident settlements, evaluate your case and determine your chances of receiving compensation for your losses. The potential success of cell phone distraction claims in the 21st Century has been likened to the widespread success of litigation involving tobacco and asbestos in the previous century. As public support for laws prohibiting the use of cell phones while driving grows, settlements for death claims and the success of lawsuits involving personal injury and filed by victims and their families will likely follow suit.

1 Insurance Institute for Highway safety (IIHS)
2 Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES)