A Revised Economic Analysis of Restrictions on the Use of Cell Phones While Driving

Authors


* Address correspondence to Joshua Cohen, Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, 718 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115;cohenj@hsph.harvard.edu.

Abstract

Evidence that cell phone use while driving increases the risk of being involved in a motor vehicle crash has led policymakers to consider prohibitions on this practice. However, while restrictions would reduce property loss, injuries, and fatalities, consumers would lose the convenience of using these devices while driving. Quantifying the risks and benefits associated with cell phone use while driving is complicated by substantial uncertainty in the estimates of several important inputs, including the extent to which cell phone use increases a driver's risk of being involved in a crash, the amount of time drivers spend using cell phones (and hence their aggregate contribution to crashes, injuries, and fatalities), and the incremental value to users of being able to make calls while driving. Two prominent studies that have investigated cell phone use while driving have concluded that the practice should not be banned. One finds that the benefits of calls made while driving substantially exceed their costs while the other finds that other interventions could reduce motor vehicle injuries and fatalities (measured in terms of quality adjusted life years) at a lower cost. Another issue is that cell phone use imposes increased (involuntary) risks on other roadway users. This article revises the assumptions used in the two previous analyses to make them consistent and updates them using recent data. The result is a best estimate of zero for the net benefit of cell phone use while driving, a finding that differs substantially from the previous study. Our revised cost-effectiveness estimate for cell phone use while driving moves in the other direction, finding that the cost per quality adjusted life year increases modestly compared to the previous estimate. Both estimates are very uncertain.

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