Aparna Soni's Spring 2016 Winning Scholarship Essay

Written by Aparna Soni

Aparna completed her undergrad degree in Economics and Journalism from Boston University. She is now a second-year Ph.D. student at Indiana University in Bloomington, studying Economics with a focus on Health Policy.

Over the past 25 years, cell phones have gone from being a high-tech luxury to a practical necessity. In the United States, there are 328 million cell phone subscribers, suggesting that on average every American uses at least once cell phone (CTIA 2012). While cell phones improve communication and increase economic productivity, they also instigate a grave public safety concern: distracted driving.

Studies show that cell phone usage impairs driving performance, increases response time, and raises the likelihood of missing critical traffic signals such as stop signs. A controlled experiment found that drivers using cell phones experienced an 18% increase in reaction time, 12% increase in following distance, 17% increase in time taken to recover speed lost after braking, and 100% increase in the number of rear-end collisions (Strayer and Drews 2004). The risk is even greater for teen drivers, due to  lack of driving experience.

In spite of the dangers of distracted driving, 69% of Americans admitted to talking on their cell phones while driving, and 31% text or e-mail while driving (CDC 2013). This has devastating impacts on car accidents and mortality rates. Nationwide, over 3,300 people were killed and another 424,000 people were injured in 2013 due to crashes involving a distracted driver (CDC 2013). Many states have responded through legislation. Talking on a hand-held cell phone is banned in 14 states and DC, texting is banned in 46 states and DC, and use of all cell phones by novice drivers is restricted in 37 states and DC (IIHS 2016).

Studies show that well-publicized laws against cell phone usage result in high compliance rates. In New York, the first state to ban handheld cell phone usage while driving , drivers’ cell phone usage rate declined by more than 50% within three months of the law’s passage, while the usage rate remained unchanged in neighboring states that did not enact the ban (McCartt et al. 2003). Moreover, after the ban, 46 counties in New York experienced lower fatal car accident rates, and all 62 counties experienced lower personal injury car accident rates (Nikolaev et al. 2010).

In Texas, drivers younger than 18 are forbidden from all cell phone use, but adult drivers are free to text and make hand-held calls while driving, so long as they are not in school crossing zones (IIHS 2016). Recently, Texas has experienced an increase in car accidents: the 2014 death toll of 3,534 was a 3.7% increase from 2013; 483 people were killed in crashes involving distracted driving, a 4% increase from 2013 (Texas Department of Transportation 2014). Based on the experience of New York and other states, banning handheld cell phone use in Texas would result in decreased cell phone usage while driving and lower rates of car accidents. Texas should therefore strongly consider a ban on cell phone usage for all drivers. Such a ban would keep Texas roads safe from the deadly outcomes of distracted driving.


Centers for Disease Control. (2013). Distracted driving.
<http://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/distracted_driving/> accessed 9 February 2016.

CTIA. (2012). U.S. wireless quick facts. <www.ctia.org> accessed 9 February 2016.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. (2016). Cellphones and texting. Distracted Driving.
<http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/laws/cellphonelaws> accessed 9 February 2016.

McCartt, A. T., Braver, E. R., & Geary, L. L. (2003). Drivers’ use of handheld cell phones before and after New York State’s cell phone law. Preventive Medicine, 36(5), 629-635.

Nikolaev, A. G., Robbins, M. J., & Jacobson, S. H. (2010). Evaluating the impact of legislation prohibiting hand-held cell phone use while driving. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 44(3), 182-193.

Strayer, D. L., & Drew, F. A. (2004). Profiles in driver distraction: Effects of cell phone conversations on younger and older drivers. Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 46(4), 640-649.

Texas Department of Transportation. (2014). Texas Motor Vehicle Traffic Crash Highlights.
<http://www.txdot.gov/government/enforcement/annual-summary.html> accessed 9 February 2016.