October 1, 2010

It’s not exactly news that texting while driving is a poor decision; however, new research sheds light on just how deadly it can be. According to the study by the University of North Texas Health Science Center, texting while driving was responsible for 16, 141 deaths between 2002 and 2007.

Lead study authors Fernando A. Wilson, PhD and Jim P. Stimpson, PhD analyzed information from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, which records data on vehicle accidents that occur within the U.S. Using this system, they examined trends in distracted driving fatalities, including cell phone usage and texting volumes.

Distracted driving fatalities actually decreased from 1999 to 2005, the researchers write. However, between 2005 and 2008, the amount of deaths rose considerably from 4,572 to 5,870 – a 28 percent increase. They estimate that if text messaging had never been invented, the number of distracted driving fatalities would have been down to 1,925 per year, the CS Monitor reports.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the percentage of U.S. drivers observed using a cell phone has held steady at 6 percent since 2005. Therefore, the study suggests the increase might be due to the shift in how handheld devices are used.

The LA Times reports some other facts of the study:

  • The percentage of all traffic deaths caused by distracted driving rose from 11% in 1999 to 16% in 2008.
  • Distracted-driving crashes are more common in urban areas. Overall, 40% of all crashes happened in urban areas in 2008, up from 33% a decade earlier.
  • Only one-third of Americans had a cellphone in 1999. By 2008, 91% of us did.
  • The average monthly volume of text messages was 1 million in 2002. By 2008, it was 110 million.

This study is published in the American Journal of Public Health.


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