Keeping your eyes on the road may not be enough to keep you from avoiding an accident.
Using your cellphone behind the wheel has the same effects as having a blood alcohol content of 0.8 -- the legal limit for drunk driving. Switching to a hands-free device lessens your chances of getting into an accident, but not by much. That's because it isn't what you're doing with your hands that counts. It's what's going on in your head.
New research shows that just thinking about receiving a call or a text message is enough to raise the risk of a crash. In a study by Jennifer Whitehill, a postdoc at the University of Washington, undergraduate students were asked to take a standardized survey indicating their level of cell phone attachment. When cross-referenced with the participants' driving records, the researchers noticed a relationship between attachment to mobile devices and accidents involving motor vehicles.
Whitehill and Beth Ebel, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington and the paper's senior author, administered the survey, which has been used in the past to study other types of addiction, to 384 psychology students and tracked them for three years. Among those who scored well enough on the survey to land in the bottom quartile -- that is to say, the least attached to their phones -- researchers counted about 25 car crashes per 100 people per year. But among those who scored in the top quarter for cell phone addiction, that figure jumped to 38 crashes per 100 people per year. In other words, there is evidence for a link between cellphone attachment and car accidents.