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Large Majority of Drivers Who Own Cell Phones Use Them While Driving Even Though They Know This Is Dangerous

ROCHESTER, N.Y.--Most drivers who own cell phones use them while driving even though almost all of them believe it is dangerous to do so. A quarter of drivers with cell phones sends or receives text messages while driving. Most drivers with cell phones use hand-held rather than hands-free phones although they believe that hands-free phones are safer. Even in states where it is illegal for drivers to use hand-held phones, half of cell phone users do so. This Harris Poll also shows that most drivers who use cell phones believe that using hands-free phones is safer than using hand-held phones, contrary to the evidence of available research that suggests that it is the minds, not the hands, of drivers that are adversely affected by talking on the phone.

These are some of the findings of The Harris Poll®, a new nationwide survey of 2,681 U.S. adults surveyed online between May 11 and 18, 2009 by Harris Interactive®.

These findings support the views of the National Safety Council that most drivers ignore the evidence about the risks of using cell phones and the advice of safety experts. A 2003 study by the Harvard Center of Risk Analysis estimated that cell phone use while driving contributed to six percent of crashes, which equated to 636,000 crashes, 330,000 injuries, 12,000 serious injuries and 2,600 deaths each year. The study also put the annual financial toll of cell phone-related crashes at $43 billion.

“Studies show that driving while talking is on a cell phone is extremely dangerous and puts drivers at a four times greater risk of a crash,” said Janet Froetsher, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “Drunk driving is also dangerous and against the law. When our friends have been drinking, we take car keys away. It’s time to take the cell phone away.”

Key findings in this Harris Poll include:

  • 72% of those who drive and own cell phones say they use them to talk while they are driving;
  • Most of these people (66%) say they usually use hand-held rather than hands-free telephones to talk;
  • Even in states that have banned the use of hand-held cell phones while driving, half (49%) of cell phone users use hand-held, rather than hands-free, phones;
  • Only 2% of those who use cell phones while driving believe this is not dangerous at all. Most believe it is very dangerous (26%), dangerous (24%) or somewhat dangerous (33%);
  • A 71% majority of those who use cell phones while driving believes that hands-free cell phones are safer than hand-held phones (even though some research suggest otherwise);
  • Younger drivers are more likely than older drivers to talk on the phone while driving. Most (58%) “Matures” (people older than Baby Boomers, currently aged 64 or over) who drive and own cell phones say they do not use their cell phones while driving; and,
  • A quarter of drivers with cell phones report using them to send or receive text messages while driving, although a large majority (74%) does not.

So What?

These findings point to several important conclusions:

1. Cell phone use by drivers is very widespread and is, therefore, a major health care risk.

2. Large numbers of people do not obey state laws that forbid the use of hand-held phones.

3. Most people believe, perhaps wrongly, that hands-free cell phone use is safer than using hand-held phones.

4. Many millions of drivers send and receive text messages while driving, possibly a greater risk than talking on the phone.

These results suggest the need for a major campaign to greatly reduce drivers’ cell phone use and texting.

The Harris Poll®#58, June 8, 2009

By Humphrey Taylor, Chairman of The Harris Poll, Harris Interactive


The Harris Poll® was conducted online within the United States May 11 and 18, 2009, among 2,681 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.