In Defense of Driving and Talking


Via Tyler Cowen, a study from UC Berkeley grad students Saurabh Bhargava and Vikram Pathania finds no positive link between cell phone use and vehicle crashes. From the UC Berkeley press release:

It's conventional wisdom that talking on cell phones while driving is risky business, but two University of California, Berkeley, graduate student economists report that a spike in cell phone use in recent years and on weekday evenings is not matched by an increase in fatal or non-fatal car crashes from 2002-2005.

"We were quite shocked," admitted Saurabh Bhargava, who with co-author Vikram Pathania set out to satisfy a curiosity about drivers who use their cell phones despite the commonly perceived perils.

The students point to data revealing that the average amount of time a cell phone subscriber spends on calls has surged from 140 to 740 minutes a month since 1993. In addition, about 40 percent of drivers acknowledge using their cell phones at some point while driving, and cell phone ownership is skyrocketing, up from about 2 percent in 1990 to more than 75 percent in 2006.

As Tyler points out, while the authors' results are intriguing, the jury is still out. The authors themselves concede that over 125 other studies argue a causal relationship between phone use and accidents, so don't expect the repudiation of these ridiculous laws any time soon.

Full study from Brookings-AEI here. Nick Gillespie and Tyler Cowen's discuss marginal revolutions and inner economists here.