The research team examined over eight million car crashes, and all road fatalities, that occurred in eight US states between 2002 and 2005. Data was divided into before-9pm and after-9pm, due to many American phone providers offering free after-9pm calls during the time period examined.
The study reconciled these variables by determining whether phones that used multiple masts for a call – indicating movement – aligned with car crashes in those same locations. No such relationship was found.
“At first we thought the numbers were wrong. We went back and checked everything, but there was nothing going on at all,” said Dr. Vikram Pathania of the London School of Economics, one of the participating research schools.
“We were very surprised...we saw a big jump in cellphone use [after 9pm] and there was no impact on the crash rate.”
Although the study does not link phone calls to car crashes, it did not measure texting or internet use. As a result, it does not condone the use of phones while driving. Also, despite the use of phones increasing after 9pm in the study, it is possible that there were less cars on the road at that time, meaning fewer chances for collisions to occur.
The study also notes that the results may not be consistent between different demographics.
“It may look very different if you focus on young males or new drivers,” said Dr. Pathania.
In NSW, laws dictate that drivers may only use their phone for the purpose of making or receiving a call if the phone is secured in a cradle fixed to the vehicle, or the phone can be operated by means of hands-free technology such as Bluetooth or a dedicated answer button on the car. Drivers may not hold a phone while driving, other than to pass it to a passenger, and placing the phone in between your ear and shoulder is not an acceptable alternative to a hands free system.