Cell Phone Safety – How to Be a Responsible Driver

posted in: Cell Phones | 0

By Akim Bunny

Introduction

Studies have shown that using a cell phone while driving does increase the risk of a crash, but the amount of increased risk is still difficult to be known. It is agreed, however, that talking on a cell phone while operating a vehicle is a distraction that may impair driving ability, especially teenagers who are sometime easily occupied by other things. The aim of this paper is to present available data concerning the impact that cell phone use has on driving ability and increasing crash risk. In November 1, 2001, the State of New York enacted a law banning all drivers regardless of age from talking on a handheld cell phone while driving the vehicles. The move was later followed by the state of North Carolina, who on December 1, 2006, although the programs were not relatively same in term of who they were trying to reach, began prohibiting use of any cell phone communication device by drivers younger than 18 years old.

These studies were done to reduce risks to teenagers drivers and people of all ages by reducing highway deaths and injuries, reducing higher crash risk for teenagers due to their greater difficulty handling distractions and their high use rates of cell phone and other communication devices and to add restriction on graduated driver’s license along with the expectation that it would be viewed, accepted and enforced in the same way as is the case for the other protective elements of the graduated licensing system. In the North Carolina’s teenager drivers’ cell phone restriction, there were two or more exceptions for teenagers drivers to use cell phones while on public roads. These exceptions include talking to a teenager’s parent or legal guardian or talking to emergency response operator, hospital, physician’s office or health clinic, a private or privately owned ambulance company or service, fire department or law enforcement agency regarding an emergency situation. In New York, the exceptions were limited only to placing an emergency phone call to 911, calling or using a hands-free device, manual dialing or using a handheld phone when the vehicle is stopped.

Goals of the studies

The goal of the studies is to see whether the ban on cell phones use in two states, New York and North Carolina has led to reduction in car related deaths and injuries on public roads.

Aim and Objectives

The aim of these studies is to undertake an evaluation of the longer term effects of New York State’s law on drivers’ handheld cell phone use and the short term effects of a teenage drivers cell phone restriction in the state of North Carolina to determine the impact on all stakeholders and assess the effects on any issues relating to the quality and effectiveness of the cell phones use. The objectives of these studies are to:

– Determine whether cell phone users see the ways in which the states operate as useful, appropriate and effective way to reduce highway related deaths and injuries.

– Determine whether substantial short term declines in drivers’ use of cell phones and other communication devices after a ban, were sustained one or more years later

– Assess the implementation of the program and the extent to which they meet their goals

– Assess the impact of the cell phones use on the cell phone users/ other key stakeholders

– Assess planning and monitoring mechanisms used by each state at its local level

Methodology/Design

To ensure a comprehensive evaluation design, the qualitative arm of the studies included focus groups, observation surveys to measure the extent to which the new restriction affected teenagers’ cell phone use while driving, telephone interviews by professional telephone interview organizations with the focus to sampled randomly households using a list of households in North Carolina believed to have one or more teenagers ages 16 or 17. Pilot testing with the focus on observing drivers in the morning and pre-law observation which was conducted five months after the law went into effect were also used. In North Carolina observers attempted to gather information on how a cell phone was used, for example, held to ear, visual evidence of dialing, text messaging or game playing or evidence of hands free use. Information on type of phone use was not recorded in New York State. In New York, daytime observations of drivers were conducted at controlled intersections on geographically dispersed, heavily traveled roads in four small to medium sized upstate communities such as Albany, Binghamton, Kingston and the village of Spring Valley. Observations were conducted on Thursday and Friday in seven observation period throughout the day. Approaching vehicles in the closest two lanes were observed by a person positioned at the roadside at or near the intersection. Excluded in the observations process in the New York State were emergency vehicles, tractor-trailer trucks and buses. In state of North Carolina, no particular groups were excluded in the observations process.

The pre-law interviews were conducted on November 2006 in North Carolina with 400 groups of parents and teenagers and post-law interviews on April 2007 with relatively same groups of parents (401). Interview completion rates, those who complete interview with both parents and teenager from the same household, were 72% and 67% in the pre-law and post-law surveys while in New York State (based on December 2001 pre-law and march 2002 post-law surveys combined) use rates by driver characteristics were calculated and differences were judged only if the 95% confidence intervals of the estimated use rates did no overlap. In North Carolina cell phone use rates were similar for males and females while cell phone use rates were higher for drivers younger than 25 than for drivers ages 26-60 in New York. However, the differences were not significant. Five counties were identified in North Carolina for study (Buncombe, Guilford, Mecklenburg, Orange, and Wake County). The counties selected represented the most populous areas in the state and ranged in population from 120,000 to 825,000 each according to U.S. Census Department’s 2007 North Carolina statistics. Within each county, schools were selected for observation based on the sufficiently large number of teenager drivers (approximately 100 or more and the approach roadways and parking configurations at schools that allowed for observation of most teenage drivers when departing. Separate focus groups in both states involving parents, school staff and external stakeholders were held in each state. A total of 27 focus groups were conducted across the North Carolina. All regional line managers of Telephone Interview, a professional organization contracted by state’s mobile phone health program were also involved in individual interviews.

Studies examining the effects of age on crash rates among drivers with limited experience also were not considered. Although these studies have found clear age effects, they failed to address the effects of experience. Similarly excluded were studies examining the effects of experience on crash among drivers of a limited age ranges. These studies demonstrated that 16 and 17 years old beginners had high crash risk because of driving inexperience but did not address the effects of age. Finally, the review excluded three studies of the effects of age and experience on motorcycle crashes because it was not clear the findings could be generalized to other crash types. Motorcycle travel is inherently more hazardous than travel by other types of vehicles, and crash-involved motorcyclists differ from other crash-involved drivers in important respects.

Measurement issues

In terms of variables, the studies were using pre-law observations, drivers’ handheld cell use rate, drivers characteristics, phone us/ nonuse, driver gender, belt use, number and gender of passenger such as all male, all female or mixed and vehicle type, for example, car, SUV, pickup truck or ban. In the state of New York, the measurement was on cell phone use rates by driver gender, age and which type of vehicle. Use rates by driver characteristics were calculated for the pre-law survey (December 2001, March 2002 and March 2003 surveys combined). Differences were judged significant if 95% interval of the estimated use rates did not change. For all survey in New York and North Carolina, cell phone rates were similar for males and females regardless of age. Use rate were higher for drivers younger than 25 than for drivers ages 25 to 59 in New York, but the differences were not significant. Use among drivers ages 60 and older was negligible across all surveys in New York. With regard to which vehicle type, drivers of cars had the lowest use rate, but only the difference between drivers of cars and drivers of SUV was significant in all New York surveys, but remain unknown in the North Carolina surveys.

Data to develop different measures, for example, crash and exposure measures sometimes were collected at different times and or pertained to different time periods. Injury crash rates for drivers licensed 12 months versus 1+ years computed by age and gender. Multiple regression models were also developed. Some relative risks calculations provided for experience effects among younger drivers. Overall positive age effects for males were similar but weaker effect for females. Among novice males, crash rates similar for ages 16 and 17, and 18 but much lower at age 17; among novice females, rates higher at 16 than 17 to 19. Crash risk lower among male or female novice versus experienced drivers for ages 16 to 25. No marked experience effects among older females or males. Since none of these studies has talk about it, in the future we might need to look into the annual miles driven, miles driven during previous year, and miles driven during previous week by drivers regardless of ages to come up with outcomes.

Outcomes

– More drivers, both teenagers in North Carolina and all drivers in New York, stops driving while talking on handheld cell phones due to threat of ticket.

– More cell phone use while driving has resulted in citations being issued to increase public perception that state government is serious about the cell phones use while driving on public roads.

– Increases in hand-free device technologies due to pressure from the state government

– Reduction in number of deaths and injuries sustained by drivers driving while on handheld cell phone in New York and North Carolina

To achieve these outcomes the followings have to happens based on the studies’ conclusions

– Threat of imprisonment- which the two states have not yet adopted

– Parental involvement- which north Carolina state has already adopted

– Parental supervision- none of the states is in position to adopt the strategy

– Law enforcement agencies taking tough stands against those who disobey the laws

Statistical Analysis

Estimates were derived of the proportion of drivers in qualifying vehicles who were using handheld cell phones in New York and of teenagers’ drivers who were talking on handheld cell phones while driving in North Carolina. Ironically, changes in phone use rates between the post-law and pre-law surveys in each state were examined, with 95% confidence interval for relative rates obtained in North Carolina. In New York, rates were compared between the pre-law and post-law and short term post-law surveys with associated 95% confidence intervals. Assuming that patterns cell phone use among teenagers’ drivers in North Carolina would have followed situations observed among drivers in New York, absent North Carolina’s restriction on teenagers’ drivers cell phones use, logic regression analysis made a direct statistical comparison between the changes observed in cell phone use rates in New York relative to the observed change in a teenagers’ drivers cell phones use in North Carolina. The estimated percentage change in use rates in New York relative to those percentage changes in North Carolina based on the ratio of “after” and “before” odds ratios, car type, driver gender and passenger presence were a functions of the model coefficient for the interaction variable. Differences in survey responses between teenagers and their parents were tested for statistical significance using chi-square tests of independence while cell phones use were observed using drivers characteristics observed during the 10 minute observations of passing traffic and applied to the total vehicles counted during the 35 minute cell phone observation periods.

The methods and findings of the two studies are summarized in and grouped according to whether driving exposure was considered in addition to age and years of driving experience. Data were obtained from self-reported driver surveys or from government records such as driver’s license records, police crash reports, or insurance claims files. The lower age limit ranged from 16 to 18, and the upper age limit ranged from 25 to 70 and older. The lower bound for years of driving experience generally was 1 year or less, and the upper bound ranged from 2 years to 38 years or more. The primary measures of exposure were cell phone citations issued during the first 15 months, gender drivers’ ages and the vehicle type (Car, SUVs or van). During the 2006, actually two to eight weeks before the implementation of the cell phones ban, phone use was observed for 6,164 teenage drivers in North Carolina and 1,257 in New York for all drivers. In the beginning of the following year, approximately 5 months after the ban implementation, phone use was observed for 6,401 teenage drivers in North Carolina and 25,694 in New York. Characteristics of the samples observed were similar in both New York and North Carolina. In the pre-law survey approximately half of observed teenage drivers were male in North Carolina (47%) while both male and female were observed in New York (2.3% to 1.1% immediately after the law took effect). There was not significant change in observations during the post-law in both states. About half of teenage drivers were observed driving alone (without passengers) in North Carolina (52%) and none was reported for the New York.

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