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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Distracted Driving, A Major Preventable Cause of Motor Vehicle Collisions: “Just Hang Up and Drive”


For years, public health experts have been concerned about the effect of cell phone use on motor vehicle collisions, part of a phenomenon known as “distracted driving.” The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) article “Mobile Device Use While Driving - United States and Seven European Countries 2011” highlights the international nature of these concerns. Recent (2011) estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are that 10% of fatal crashes and 17% of injury crashes were reported as distraction-affected. Of 3,331 people killed in 2011 on roadways in the U.S. as a result of driver distraction, 385 died in a crash where at least one driver was using a cell phone. For drivers 15-19 years old involved in a fatal crash, 21% of the distracted drivers were distracted by the use of cell phones. Efforts to reduce cell phone use while driving could reduce the prevalence of automobile crashes related to distracted driving. The MMWR report shows that there is much ground to cover with distracted driving. Emergency physicians frequently see the devastating effects of distracted driving on a daily basis and should take a more active role on sharing the information with patients, administrators, legislators, friends and family.

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