Sustainable America Blog

Have Cell Phones Led to Increased Vehicle Idling?

Man using cell phone while idling a car

Is this guy idling? (Photo: Daniel Stagner via Flickr.

In recent years, we’ve learned about the dangers of cell phone use while driving. Nationally, it is estimated that approximately 24 percent of motor vehicle accidents involve cell phone usage, though a direct causal relation has been difficult to draw. Regardless, lawmakers are in agreement that using cell phones while driving is dangerous, and laws are being passed at a furious pace across the country to limit this practice.

It makes sense that distracted driving would lead to more accidents, but do cell phones also lead drivers to another dangerous behavior: idling their cars while they call, text or check Facebook? This issue appears to be wholly unstudied, but if you start to take note of idlers in your area, you’ll probably find that a many of them are using their cell phones. Robert Shulman in Northampton, Mass., noticed the very same thing while picking up his nephew at school last winter. He sent a letter to the editor of his local paper with his own (unscientific) findings:

“As usual, I was dismayed by the noxious odors being omitted from the cars. Looking carefully, I noticed several drivers engaged with their cell phones. I checked the remainder of the vehicles in the line and observed that in more than 90 percent of the vehicles the drivers were using cell phones.”

This begs the question, is cell phone use increasing the occurrence and length of time that people idle their vehicles? Or is cell phone use just the modern day pastime of choice for uninformed drivers who would otherwise be idling their cars anyway? If phones do lead to more idling, what can be done to get people to break this harmful habit, which leads to increased pollution and wastes valuable fuel?

I wish we could provide answers, but an online search yields no data, articles or other information about idling and cell phone usage. So for now we’ll have to leave this as an open-ended question to our readers and invite the scientific community to tackle this interesting issue.

Sign our pledge to stop unnecessary vehicle idling at, and please consider a donation to Sustainable America to help fund our efforts to reduce vehicle idling in America.

Katrina Kazda
Director of Programs

The Truth About Idling
7 Ways to Take Action on Idling
10 Reasons to Turn Off an Idling Car

Photo: Daniel Stagner via Flickr

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