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Dialing While Fishtailing: How Mobile Phones, Hands-Free Laws, and Driving Conditions Interact to Affect Traffic Fatalities


  • Kolko, Jed


Most rich countries in the world and four US states require drivers talking on mobile phones to use hands-free devices. However, previous research has failed to arrive at a consensus on the effect of mobile phones on traffic accidents yet has concluded that the effect of hands-free and hand-held phones on accidents is similar. This paper uses state-level data from 1997-2005 on mobile phone ownership, traffic fatalities, and hands-free laws and finds that (1) mobile phones contribute to traffic fatalities and (2) hands-free laws appear to reduce fatalities. Specifically, mobile phone ownership results in a large and statistically significant increase in traffic fatalities in bad weather or wet road conditions, with no effect in good weather or dry road conditions. Laws requiring drivers to use hands-free technologies while talking reduce traffic fatalities in adverse conditions, and the effect grows stronger and becomes statistically significant the longer the law is in effect, although these longer-term effects are based solely on New York, which in 2001 became the first state to have a hands-free law. The analysis relies on microdata from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System to estimate effects for traffic fatalities in different conditions and to isolate fatalities unlikely to be affected by confounding changes in alcohol policies or graduated licensing laws.

Suggested Citation

  • Kolko, Jed, 2007. "Dialing While Fishtailing: How Mobile Phones, Hands-Free Laws, and Driving Conditions Interact to Affect Traffic Fatalities," MPRA Paper 4135, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:4135

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Cohen, Alma & Dehejia, Rajeev, 2004. "The Effect of Automobile Insurance and Accident Liability Laws on Traffic Fatalities," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 47(2), pages 357-393, October.
    2. Hahn Robert W. & Prieger James E, 2007. "The Impact of Driver Cell Phone Use on Accidents," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 6(1), pages 1-39, January.
    3. Dee, Thomas S., 1999. "State alcohol policies, teen drinking and traffic fatalities," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 72(2), pages 289-315, May.
    4. Austan Goolsbee, 2000. "In a World Without Borders: The Impact of Taxes on Internet Commerce," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 115(2), pages 561-576.
    5. Jeffrey R. Brown & Austan Goolsbee, 2002. "Does the Internet Make Markets More Competitive? Evidence from the Life Insurance Industry," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 110(3), pages 481-507, June.
    6. Steven D. Levitt & Jack Porter, 2001. "How Dangerous Are Drinking Drivers?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(6), pages 1198-1237, December.
    7. Orley Ashenfelter & Michael Greenstone, 2004. "Using Mandated Speed Limits to Measure the Value of a Statistical Life," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(S1), pages 226-267, February.
    8. Alma Cohen & Liran Einav, 2003. "The Effects of Mandatory Seat Belt Laws on Driving Behavior and Traffic Fatalities," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 85(4), pages 828-843, November.
    9. Betsey Stevenson, 2009. "The Internet and Job Search," NBER Chapters,in: Studies of Labor Market Intermediation, pages 67-86 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    More about this item


    mobile phones; cell phones; traffic fatalities; hands-free laws; driving; safety; accidents;

    JEL classification:

    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health
    • L96 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Transportation and Utilities - - - Telecommunications
    • K32 - Law and Economics - - Other Substantive Areas of Law - - - Energy, Environmental, Health, and Safety Law

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