The study by Carnegie Mellon University and the London School of Economics and Political Science contradicts the widely held belief talking on a cellphone while driving is dangerous and leads to more accidents.
"Using a cellphone while driving may be distracting, but it does not lead to higher crash risk in the setting we examined," Carnegie Mellon social and decision sciences Professor Saurabh Bhargava said.
The study used data from a major cellphone provider and comprehensive accident reports from across nine U.S. states, finding increased cellphone use by drivers had no corresponding effect on crash rates
"While our findings may strike many as counterintuitive, our results are precise enough to statistically call into question the effects typically found in the academic literature."
The researchers also analyzed the effects of legislation enacted in several U.S. states banning cellphone use in cars and found the laws had no effect on the crash rate.
"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," Bhargava said in a Carnegie Mellon release Thursday. "This is one of a few explanations that could explain why laboratory studies have shown different results.
"In the least, this study and others like it, suggest we should revisit the presumption that talking on a cellphone while driving is as dangerous as widely perceived."
Co-researcher Vikram S. Pathania from the London school added a cautionary note about the research.
"Our study focused solely on talking on one's cellphone. We did not, for example, analyze the effects of texting or Internet browsing, which has become much more popular in recent years. It is certainly possible that these activities pose a real hazard."