Talking to death: cell calls, texts said to have killed 16,000

Drivers distracted by talking or texting on cell phones killed an estimated 16,000 people from 2001 to 2007, according to a report released yesterday in the American Journal of Public Health.

"Our results suggested that recent and rapid increases in texting volumes have resulted in thousands of additional road fatalities in the United States," Fernando Wilson and Jim Stimpson of the University of North Texas Health Science Center wrote in the study.

The study used details on road deaths from each state, on cell phone ownership and data on text message volume from the Federal Communications Commission, as well as reports from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on deaths attributable to distracted driving.

In 2002, 1 million texts were sent every month. By 2008, texting was up to 110 million each month. U.S. traffic deaths in 2009 hit their lowest level since the mid-1950s at 33,963. But for every 1 million new cell phone subscribers, the study estimated a 19 percent rise in deaths due to distracted driving.

"Distracted deaths as a share of all road fatalities increased from 10.9 percent to 15.8 percent from 1999 to 2008, and much of the increase occurred after 2005," the researchers wrote.

At least 30 states ban texting while driving, and some cities and states require hands-free devices for drivers using mobile telephones.

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