Of the more than 100 million mobile phone users roaming around the United States, about three per cent are on the road at any given time, according to a U.S. government survey.
At any given moment during the day, about 500,000 people are chatting on hand-held mobile phones while they are driving, says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Women driving vans and sport utility vehicles are twice as likely as men to be using their phones, according to a report released this week. It did not track drivers using hand-free devices. It also did not distinguish between people talking on the phone and surfing with Wireless Application Protocol-enabled phones.
“The perception is that businessmen in Mercedes are the ones on the phone, but it’s really more moms in SUVs and in vans that are the ones on the phone,” says Stephanie Fahl, a spokesperson for the American Automobile Association’s research branch, the Foundation for Traffic Safety. “That’s what is most interesting about the survey.”
The survey does not make any connections between mobile phone use and automobile accidents. But risk of an accident while on the phone is very high, says Michael Goodman, of the NHTSA.
Exact numbers are tough to gauge because it is hard for law enforcement to document the exact cause of an accident, he says.
While the agency reports that driver distraction is a factor in 20 to 30 per cent of all crashes, the AAA recently reported that nearly two per cent of these crashes are caused by mobile phone use.
Most of the accidents caused by distractions are due to drivers eating, drinking, or changing the radio station while driving, Fahl says.
New York passed legislation in June banning hand-held mobile phone use while driving. At least 45 other states have considered similar laws.
“If three per cent of drivers are using phones, that clearly doesn’t reach the threshold for legislation,” says Dee Yankoskie, a spokesperson for the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association. “It does emphasize the fact that drivers need to be educated on the myriad of distractions they face – from eating, changing a CD, talking to other passengers or talking on a wireless phone.”
The survey also notes that white drivers use their phones 3.7 per cent of the time, compared to 2.3 per cent for black drivers.
The report is part of a series by the NHTSA, which plans to pursue more mobile phone and driver studies. The agency observed more than 12,000 vehicles each day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. from October until November. The data was collected at 640 intersections.