Unit One Article 3 - RESEARCH AND PRACTICE Trends in...

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Trends in Fatalities From Distracted Driving in the United States, 1999 to 2008 Fernando A. Wilson, PhD, and Jim P. Stimpson, PhD Concern is growing about the dangers of distracted driving, as underscored during a 2010 national summit that brought together safety experts, industry leaders, and several US senators to address the hazards of driving while distracted and to examine possible regulatory solutions. This concern is further underscored by the growing number of communities that are contemplating or implementing bans on cell phone use while driving. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents 11 major car companies, and the American Automobile Association joined this debate by announcing support for bans on the use of handheld devices while driving. 1,2 Given the increasing visibility of the issue of distracted driving in the media and among policymakers, a need exists for data to inform public policy on this important public health issue. In 2008, approximately 1 in 6 fatal vehicle collisions resulted from a driver being distracted while driving. 3 The causes of dis- traction have recently been debated, and several studies implicated the use of cell phones or sending text messages while driving. For exam- ple, studies using a naturalistic methodology suggested that relative to nondistracted drivers, those drivers who text are 23 times as likely to crash. 4 Laboratory and naturalistic studies showed that talking on a cell phone raises the risk of collision by more than 30%. 4 Although compelling naturalistic and laboratory data sug- gest that handheld devices are a driving hazard, no population-based studies of distracted driving, particularly on the magnitude of traffic deaths associated with handheld devices, have been carried out. 5–13 We examined trends in vehicle fatalities resulting from distractions by using a national database on all vehicular fatalities occurring on public roads in the United States. Trend data on cell phone subscriber and monthly texting volumes complemented the fatality data to provide an estimate of the relation between distracted driving fatalities and the use of handheld devices. We examined whether in- creasing cell phone use and texting volume may explain recent trends in distracted driving fatalities. METHODS The Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) database contains detailed demo- graphic and crash information on every acci- dent that occurs on a public road in the United States that results in at least 1 fatality. To be recorded in FARS, a fatality must occur within 30 days of the corresponding crash. Informa- tion is collected from a variety of sources, including police reports, state registration files, state licensing files, vital statistics, death certif- icates, hospital medical records, and emergency medical or coroner reports. We examined the 10-year period from 1999 to 2008.
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