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Directions in Highway Safety Cover - Spring 2011 Download Newsletter pdf
[1.4 MB, 12 pgs.]

Spring 2011 | Vol. 13 | No. 1

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World Health Organization Examines Mobile Phone Use

The World Health Organization (WHO) has released a new report titled “Mobile Phone Use: A Growing Problem of Driver Distraction.” The report was funded jointly by WHO and NHTSA. While no new ground is broken in the publication, is it significant that an organization with the visibility and clout of WHO is concerned about distracted driving.

Mobile Phone Use: A Growing Problem of Driver Distraction cover

The report notes the increasing scope of the problem. Mobile phone use by drivers has increased during the past 5-10 years ranging from 1 percent up to 11 percent. The use of hands-free mobile phone is likely to be higher, but this figure is harder to estimate.

WHO notes that phone use while driving, and texting in particular, can impair a driver and lead to the driver needing a longer time to react and an overall reduction in the awareness of the driving situation. The report repeats the commonly held opinion that the impact of mobile phone use on crash risk is difficult to ascertain but notes other studies suggest that drivers using a mobile phone are approximately four times more likely to be involved in a crash. As to hands-free versus hand-hand, the report states, “This increased risk appears to be similar for handheld and hands-free phones, suggesting that it is the cognitive distraction that results from being involved in a conversation on a mobile phone that has the most impact on driving behavior, and thus crash risk.”

WHO notes that the body of research on the effectiveness of distracted driving countermeasures is small. As a result, a number of countries are applying successful approaches from other highway safety areas to address mobile phone use by drivers. WHO cites a number of measures that offer potential risk reduction, including: adopting and enforcing legislation relating to mobile phone use; technological solutions; and employer policies that regulate employees’ use of mobile phones while driving.

The report concludes with a caution that technology is constantly evolving and more distractions are no doubt on the horizon but that governments cannot wait to take action. WHO recommends, “Governments need to be proactive now, and put in place measures to address mobile phone use among drivers, while simultaneously monitoring and evaluating the effects of these interventions.”

Download the full report at