For a long time, many drivers have believed that talking on a cellphone while driving is a dangerous behavior that leads to accidents. However, a recent study from Carnegie Mellon University and the London School of Economics and Political Science found that just talking on a cellphone does not significantly increase the risk of a crash.
Researchers looked at phone and traffic activity from 2002 to 2005, when most cellphone carriers were offering plans that featured free calls on nights and weekends. Although the number of people using cellphones increased 7 percent after 9 p.m., there was no change in the crash rate.
While talking on the phone is undoubtedly distracting, many motorists may try to make up for the risks with other behavioral changes.
"One thought is that drivers may compensate for the distraction of cellphone use by selectively deciding when to make a call or consciously driving more carefully during a call," said study author Saurabh Bhargava. "This is one of a few explanations that could explain why laboratory studies have shown different results."
The evolution of smartphones and in-car technology could be adding to distractions drivers face behind the wheel. Although many motorists act carefully when talking on a phone, texting or browsing the Internet could still pose a major problem, leading to accidents and necessary auto repair.