Talking on mobile phone while driving doesn’t increase chances of a crash, a new study had claimed.
Assuming that the motorist is using a hands-free kit, there is actually only a “negligible” increase in the chance they will have an accident, despite previous claims to the contrary.
The new research undermines the two studies, which have formed the “cornerstone” of laws in the UK on mobiles and driving.
The study found that both the previous ones had problems with their methodology which erroneously put the risk of crashing while talking on your phone up to four times higher.
Professor Richard Young of Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit found that there were problems with the seminal studies carried out in 1997 in Canada, and another from Australia in 2005 which have informed policy around the world.
The original two papers went to hospitals and interviewed patients who had been in car crashes, then looked at their phones to see when they had been using them.
They compared the amount of time they spent using their phone for the 10 minutes before the drivers had crashed that day with the 10 minutes over the same time period the previous day.
This led them to conclude that talking on the phone meant one was four times more likely to crash.
According to Young, the methodology used in the previous studied had a problem with it.
The researchers had assumed that the day before the crash the drivers were on the road for the same amount of time in the 10-minute window, but it turned out they were not.
By using GPS data Young worked out they were actually driving for a quarter of the time on average. What that was factored into the equations it lowered the risk of crashing.
“This was an oversight on the part of both papers, which have become the cornerstone of the advice not to talk on your phone while driving,” the Daily Mail quoted Young as saying.
“If people are taking reasonable precautions and taking care when they are driving such as using a hands-free kit then there is a negligible difference between the risk of crashing compared to when you are talking on your mobile phone.
“It is very important to say that this research only relates to talking on a mobile phone. Other aspects of mobile phone use are still dangerous.
“Studies have shown that texting and driving increased the risk of crashing by 23 times, and manual dialling and driving by two-and-a-half times.
“These are very well substantiated papers and I have no problem with the methodology,” he said.
A study showed in Taiwan found that between August 2000 and March 2001 there were 2,407 accidents caused by people using mobiles, leading to 14 deaths and 443 injuries.
Of those, four of the deaths and 89 injuries occurred in accidents where the driver was using a hands-free phone.
“We won”t change our advice based on this information,” a spokesperson for the AA said.
“Simulator and other studies still exist, and personal experience tells many about the distraction effects of both hand held and hands free equipment.
“Many people can also spot drivers who are on the phone from their behaviour i.e. 55 in the middle lane, no signal lane changes etc.
“Their mind is clearly not on the job,” the spokesperson added.