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A study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found that young adults who use cellphones while driving are more likely to engage in other impulsive behaviors, establishing a link between impulsivity and car crashes.

Credit: Alec Druggan

Researchers at the Annenberg Public Policy Center and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found that certain personality traits put young adults at higher risk of getting into car crashes.

The study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, found that people 18 to 24 years old who use cellphones while driving are more likely to engage in other impulsive behaviors, establishing a link between impulsivity and car crashes. The authors suggest that training young drivers to avoid all risky and impulsive behaviors — not just those associated with driving — may help promote safer driving.

The team surveyed 384 young drivers from across the country and measured their risky driving practices, including cellphone use. The survey also recorded the drivers’ history of crashes and impulse-related personality traits, according to APPC. Those who participated in cellphone use while driving were more likely to engage in additional risky and impulsive acts, such as ignoring speed limits, aggressively passing vehicles, and disregarding red lights.

While the study found a link between cellphone usage and risky driving behaviors, the researchers reported that addressing cellphone use alone is not enough to reduce car crashes in young people.

“It may be useful to treat cell phone use while driving as part of a group of risky driving behaviors, such as driving while impaired by alcohol,” Dan Romer, a senior fellow at CHOP and an APPC research director, said.

Elizabeth Walshe, lead author of the study and a research scientist at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at CHOP, has published a number of papers on human risk-taking behavior and the neuroscience of driving. This latest study differs from her past research in that it identifies the role individual personality traits have on car crash risk, she said.

"Our newer study also suggests that assessment of personality traits, such as impulsivity, may be helpful to identify drivers most at risk in order to provide more targeted interventions promoting safe driving, particularly among those with weaker impulse control," Walshe wrote in a blogpost.

According to DrivingLaws.org, there is no law in Pennsylvania that prohibits drivers from talking on the phone or making calls while behind the wheel. However, the state does have a law that prohibits drivers from using interactive wireless communication devices, such as cellphones, to text while driving.

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