The number of fatal crashes caused by drivers talking on their cell phones is rising significantly, according to a study released Dec. 1, 2002, by Harvard University’s Center for Risk Analysis (HCRA).

The self-funded study estimated 2,600 deaths occur each year in crashes caused by driver cell phone use, compared to the HCRA’s estimate of 1,000 deaths two years ago. The study also attributed 570,000 injuries and 1.5 million property damage crashes a year to cell phone use behind the wheel.

The HCRA, which is part of the Harvard School of Public Health, also compared the financial benefits and costs of a legislative ban on cell phone use behind the wheel in non-emergency situations. The analysis concluded that the economic benefits of unrestricted cell phone use -– worth approximately $43 billion -– are more or less offset by the potential cost savings of such a ban. The study found that the benefits of a complete ban on cell phone use by drivers –- including reduced medical costs, reduced property damage, and estimates of what people would pay to avoid pain, suffering, and death –- would also be worth approximately $43 billion.

Currently, New York is the only state in the country that prohibits hand-held cell phone use (New York drivers can use cell phones with hands-free devices), although New Jersey is considering a similar law, and some county and local governments enforce their own legislation on driver cell phone use.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is conducting a study on how cell phone use affects motorists. The NHTSA study is being performed at the National Advanced Driving Simulator at the Univesity of Iowa.

Originally posted on Fleet Financials