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Driven to Distraction

4/29/2012 Anticipation of cell phone use may contribute to motor vehicle crashes

BOSTON - It’s well-known that using a cell phone while driving can lead to motor vehicle crashes. New research — to be presented Sunday, April 29, at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Boston — shows that even anticipating calls or messages may distract drivers, increasing the risk of a crash.

Jennifer M. Whitehill, PhD, postdoctoral fellow at Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center at the University of Washington, and her colleagues sought to determine whether compulsive cell phone use is associated with motor vehicle crashes. They enlisted undergraduate students to complete the Cell Phone Overuse Scale (CPOS), a 24-item instrument that assesses four aspects of problematic cell phone use: 1) frequent anticipation of calls/messages, 2) interference with normal activities (e.g., impacting  friends/family), 3) a strong emotional reaction to the cell phone and 4) recognizing problem use.

The 384 students also took an online anonymous survey that included questions about driving history, prior crashes while operating a vehicle, and items assessing risk behaviors and psychological profile.

“Young drivers continue to use cell phones in the car, despite the known risk of crash. We were interested to explore how cell phone use contributes to distracted driving and to begin to understand the relationship between the driver and the phone,” said senior author Beth E. Ebel, MD, MSc, MPH, FAAP, director of the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center and associate professor of pediatrics at University of Washington.

Results showed that for each 1 point increase on the CPOS, there was an approximately 1 percent increase in the number of previous motor vehicle crashes. Of the four dimensions of compulsive cell phone use, a higher level of call anticipation was significantly associated with prior crashes.

“We know it is important to prevent young drivers from taking their hands off the wheel and eyes off the road to use a cell phone,” Dr. Whitehill said. “This study suggests that thinking about future cell phone calls and messages may be an additional source of distraction that could contribute to crashes.”

View the abstract here, “Compulsive Cell Phone Use and Risk of Motor Vehicle Crash in Young Drivers” 

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The Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) are four individual pediatric organizations that co-sponsor the PAS Annual Meeting – the American Pediatric Society, the Society for Pediatric Research, the Academic Pediatric Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Members of these organizations are pediatricians and other health care providers who are practicing in the research, academic and clinical arenas. The four sponsoring organizations are leaders in the advancement of pediatric research and child advocacy within pediatrics, and all share a common mission of fostering the health and well-being of children worldwide. For more information, visit www.pas-meeting.org. Follow news of the PAS meeting on Twitter.