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Int J Epidemiol. 2013 Feb;42(1):259-67. doi: 10.1093/ije/dys180. Epub 2012 Nov 18.

Cell phone use and traffic crash risk: a culpability analysis.

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Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.



The use of a cell phone or communication device while driving is illegal in many jurisdictions, yet evidence evaluating the crash risk associated with cell phone use in naturalistic settings is limited. This article aims to determine whether cell phone use while driving increases motor vehicle crash culpability. Method Drivers involved in crashes where police reported cell phone use (n = 312) and propensity matched drivers (age, sex, suspect alcohol/drug impairment, crash type, date, time of day, geographical location) without cell phone use (n = 936) were drawn from Insurance Corporation of British Columbia Traffic Accident System data. A standardized scoring tool, modified to account for Canadian driving conditions, was used to determine crash culpability from police reports on all drivers from the crashes. The association between crash culpability and cell phone use was determined, with additional subgroup analyses based on crash severity, driver characteristics and type of licence.


A comparison of crashes with vs without cell phones revealed an odds ratio of 1.70 (95% confidence interval 1.22-2.36; P = 0.002). This association was consistent after adjustment for matching variables and other covariates. Subgroup analyses demonstrated an association for male drivers, unimpaired drivers, injured and non-injured drivers, and for drivers aged between 26 and 65 years.


Crash culpability was found to be significantly associated with cell phone use by drivers, increasing the odds of a culpable crash by 70% compared with drivers who did not use a cell phone. This increased risk was particularly high for middle-aged drivers.

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