The Impact of Driver Cell Phone Use on Accidents

Robert W. Hahn 1 , 1  and James E Prieger 2 , 2
  • 1 Executive Director of the American Enterprise Institute-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies and Resident Scholar at AEI,
  • 2 Associate Professor in the Pepperdine School of Public Policy,


Cell phone use is increasing worldwide, leading to a concern that cell phone use while driving increases accidents. Several countries, three states and Washington, D.C. have banned the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. In this paper, we develop a new approach for estimating the relationship between cell phone use while driving and accidents. Our approach is the first to allow for the direct estimation of the impact of a cell phone ban while driving. It is based on new survey data from over 7,000 individuals.This paper differs from previous research in two significant ways: first, we use a larger sample of individual-level data; and second, we test for selection effects, such as whether drivers who use cell phones are inherently less safe drivers, even when not on the phone.The paper has two key findings. First, the impact of cell phone use on accidents varies across the population. This result implies that previous estimates of the impact of cell phone use on risk for the population, based on accident-only samples, may be overstated by about one-third. Second, once we correct for endogeneity, there is no significant effect of hands-free or hand-held cell phone use on accidents.

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The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy (BEJEAP) is an international forum for scholarship that employs microeconomics to analyze issues in business, consumer behavior and public policy. Topics include the interaction of firms, the functioning of markets, the effects of domestic and international policy and the design of organizations and institutions.