However, new research from Carnegie Mellon University and the London School of Economics and Political Science suggests that talking on a cellphone while driving does not increase crash risk.
The study uses data from a major cellphone provider and accident reports to contradict previous findings that connected cellphone use to increased crash risk.
Such findings include the influential 1997 paper in the New England Journal of Medicine, which concluded that cellphone use by drivers increased crash risk by a factor of 4.3 - effectively equating its danger to that of illicit levels of alcohol.
The findings also raise doubts about the traditional cost-benefit analyses used by states that have, or are, implementing cellphone-driving bans as a way to promote safety.
"Using a cellphone while driving may be distracting, but it does not lead to higher crash risk in the setting we examined," Saurabh Bhargava, assistant professor of social and decision sciences in CMU's Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, said.
"While our findings may strike many as counterintuitive, our results are precise enough to statistically call into question the effects typically found in the academic literature. Our study differs from most prior work in that it leverages a naturally occurring experiment in a real-world context," he said.
The study is published in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy.