The Atlantic reports that “When It Comes to Talking on Phones While Driving, Americas Are the Worst” based on a recent release from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For its report, the CDC merged several surveys in which respondents in the US and Europe were asked to estimate how frequently they talked on their cellphones while driving. The conclusion—that US drivers talk much more frequently—is best summarized by the following chart found in the report:
Americans drive and talk a lot more than drivers in other countries, but they also drive a lot more. According to an article that collected driving data from 2008, Americans drive nearly 13,000 kilometers (~8,000 miles) per year on average while people in other countries drive significantly less. French motorists, for example, drive 6,000 kilometers per year while Swedes drive under 7,000 kilometers per year. Other European countries (e.g. UK and Germany) report similarly low driving distance statistics. In other words, Americans drive approximately double the distance per year compared to the other countries featured in CDC’s chart.
Making meaningful inter-country comparisons based on the above graphic is challenging because the respondents across countries vary so dramatically in the amount that they actually drive. It should come as no shock that people who drive more have more opportunities to talk on their phones. For this reason, the CDC should have normalized the phone usage statistics based on the respondent’s average amount of driving per month. After such a normalization, American drivers’ phone usage isn’t inconsistent with drivers from around the world.