The Canadian Press
September 14, 2008 at 1:24 PM EDT
TORONTO — Ontario's doctors are the latest to weigh in on the risks of chatting on a cellphone while driving, saying it significantly increases the danger of accidents.
Mobile phone use effects a driver's cognitive function, visual concentration, speed of processing information and reaction time, says the Ontario Medical Association.
The group compiled studies from around the world pointing to the dangers in a bid to get action from the Ontario government.
“Whether they have a publicity program or whether they go the legislative route and enact laws, that would be their decision,” said Dr. Ken Arnold, president of the association.
The doctors make several recommendations, including creating strategies to curb cellphone use in vehicles — including dialling, texting and e-mailing — and starting more educational programs.
The research found that cellphone use puts drivers at significantly greater risk of collision, regardless of whether they use a hands-free or hand-held phone.
There were 766 fatalities and 71,850 injuries due to vehicle collisions in 2005, according to the Ontario Road Safety Annual Report.
While specific numbers on deaths associated with cellphone use aren't included in the research, Dr. Arnold said the study was prompted by doctors frustrated by the numerous collision victims turning up on their operating tables.
“There certainly have been figures that show that people have used their cellphones in a time frame before their accidents,” Dr, Arnold said. “There have been studies that show when cellphones are banned that accident rates decrease.”
According to the study, cellphone use while driving is banned in Quebec, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. Five states and more than 30 countries also prohibit the act on account of the link between cellphone use and traffic accidents.
Among the study's most surprising findings is that cellphone driving can pose nearly the same risks as driving while at the legal limit for alcohol.
“Certainly we've recognized long ago the dangers of alcohol and driving, so I think it's time to look at the risks that cellphone brings to our driving,” Dr. Arnold said.
The research also found talking on a cellphone led to a large reduction in the driver's field of view, changed driving speed, decreased the distance drivers maintained between vehicles and slowed their response time to traffic light changes.
It also increased a tendency toward hard braking and saw some drivers entirely abandon checking their mirrors.