New research by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found a marked increase in drivers manipulating their hand-held cellphones. This means dialing, texting or browsing the web, as opposed to just talking. They were actually less likely than before to be merely talking than they had been in a prior survey.

In the observational roadside survey of Northern Virginia drivers, 2.3 percent were observed manipulating cellphones in 2014. In the 2018 survey, it was 3.4 percent.

At the same time, 4.1 percent of drivers were observed simply talking on their phones in 2014. By 2018 that number was down to 3.7 percent.

“The latest data suggest that drivers are using their phones in riskier ways,” said one researcher. “The observed shift in phone use is concerning because studies consistently link manipulating a cellphone while driving to increased crash risk.”

This seems to track with the general observation that fewer people are using their cellphones to talk, as opposed to texting or using the internet.

Interestingly, distracted driving did not increase overall between the two studies. So, other distractions remained at the same level, talking on the phone was reduced, and manipulation of cellphones was up.

How many fatal crashes are caused by cellphone manipulation?

It’s difficult to estimate how many people are killed by distracted driving as opposed to other factors. In 2017, the most recent year studied, approximately 37,000 people were killed in U.S. motor vehicle crashes. It is estimated that at least 800 of those fatalities were due to cellphone manipulation specifically, although that may be an underestimate.

A 2018 study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, manipulating a cellphone increases the risk of a fatal accident by 66 percent.

Why is cellphone distraction so dangerous?

Even talking on a handheld phone can change the way you process information on the road. When talking on a phone, drivers tend to focus in on the center of the roadway, missing what is happening in their peripheral vision. Your attention may be diverted from driving, and that makes it harder to process what you are looking at. A sudden event that an alert driver might handle well can come as a shock to a distracted driver.

Manipulating the cellphone is even more dangerous because it requires you to take your eyes off the road. Dialing, texting, checking online directions or browsing the web cannot be done without your eyes being on the phone — and off of what’s around you.

Cellphone distraction is injuring and killing people on our roads. This is a trend we need to stop. Can you give up using your phone while you drive?