Using phones can both cause and save us from car crashes, study finds

Texting while driving is still dangerous, though.

Andrew Krok Reviews Editor / Cars
Cars are Andrew's jam, as is strawberry. After spending years as a regular ol' car fanatic, he started working his way through the echelons of the automotive industry, starting out as social-media director of a small European-focused garage outside of Chicago. From there, he moved to the editorial side, penning several written features in Total 911 Magazine before becoming a full-time auto writer, first for a local Chicago outlet and then for CNET Cars.
Andrew Krok
2 min read
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We all know phones can contribute to behind-the-wheel distraction that may prove deadly, but perhaps some more concrete figures will finally convince you to keep the darn phone down.

From a study using data from hundreds of thousands of drivers, the majority of trips that resulted in a crash were found to have some type of phone-based distraction. This study came from from Cambridge Mobile Telematics, a provider of telematics for behavior-based insurance.

However, CMT believes that there's another way to help curb phone distraction, and somewhat unsurprisingly, it involves the tech that CMT develops. Its DriveWell system automatically records phone sensor data during a drive, and if an app that incorporates DriveWell also incorporates some kind of positive feedback like in a game, it can reduce phone distraction by 30 to 40 percent over two months of use.

The solution, therefore, is simple. Treat everything -- even dire situations that threaten one's life -- as if it were a game.

The CMT also provided more details into how they reached these conclusions. During trips that involve a collision, the average duration of phone-based distraction was more than 2 full minutes. Long stints of phone distraction take place at speeds above 56 miles per hour, which points to the long slog of the highway as a stronghold of phone distraction.

Distracted Driving
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Distracted Driving

Unsurprisingly, phone use appears to rise with speed. Highway driving is boring, but not risk-your-life boring.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Repeat offenders have it worse. Drivers who use their phones behind the wheel the most are six times more likely to crash than drivers who are the least distracted. That same subset of perennially distracted drivers is also 2.3 times more likely to get into a collision than an average driver, regardless of distraction level.

To combat this epidemic, states have enacted antiphone laws of varying strictness. However, CMT's study shows that the laws have proven only slightly effective. Its data shows that drivers in states without these laws average 3.82 minutes of phone distraction per 100 miles of driving, and that number drops to just 3.17 minutes in states that have outlawed the use of phones behind the wheel.

CMT Distracted Driving Study
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CMT Distracted Driving Study

If, like the #youths, you prefer flashy distractions, here's an infographic.

Cambridge Mobile Telematics