CELL PHONE USE WHILE DRIVING IN NORTH CAROLINA
Donald W. Reinfurt
Herman F. Huang
John R. Feaganes
William W. Hunter
The University of North Carolina
Highway Safety Research Center
This study explored several dimensions of the growing trend of talking on a cell phone
while driving. It did so by (1) reviewing the recent research – epidemiological studies; case
analyses of cell phone-related crashes; and driver performance studies; (2) reporting on recent
legislative activity regarding the use of cell phones while driving; (3) analyzing data from an
observational study of the “who, what, when, where and how many” of cell phone use while
driving in North Carolina; (4) pilot-testing the use of a supplemental data form by the N.C.
Highway Patrol to report additional information on crashes where a cell phone was involved; and
(5) analyzing police narratives for crashes where the use of a cell phone by the driver was
indicated by the investigating officer.
As part of this overall investigation, an observational study was undertaken in North
Carolina to determine the characteristics of drivers who use hand-held cell phones while driving.
Characteristics of cell phone users were observed at 85 sites across the State. A total of 14,059
vehicles were observed including 1,070 drivers who were using cell phones. The results of this
investigation indicate that cell phone usage was associated with front seat occupancy, vehicle
type, and driver age, ethnicity, and restraint usage. Drivers who were using a cell phone while
driving were more likely to be driving without a front seat passenger, driving a sport utility
vehicle, younger, white, and using seat belts.
Data collected concurrently indicated that the cell phone prevalence rate is 3.1 percent,
which is consistent with recent studies carried out nationally by NHTSA (3.0%) and by
researchers in Texas (around 5.0%). This prevalence rate is a snapshot of cell phone use by