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Science Olympiad » Disease Detectives Event » National Event Exercises
Problem Set 2: Potential Health Hazards Associated with the Use of Cellular Telephones



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Introduction
Problem Set 1

Problem Set 2

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Answer Key

(recommended time: 15 minutes)

Motor vehicle crashes resulting in injury are a leading cause of death for young people. With the explosive use of cell phones, particularly while driving, law enforcement officials, health care providers, and others have become concerned about the potential for crashes that occur because of distraction cased by use of cell phones while driving.

To investigate this problem, disease detectives at the University of Toronto contacted licensed drivers in Canada who came to one collision reporting center during a one-year period to report being involved in a motor vehicle crash. The investigators concentrated their study among 699 persons who owned cell phones. Characteristics of these people are shown in Table 1 below.

Table 1: Characteristics of 699 drivers and collisions

Characteristic Number Percentage (%)
Age (yr)    
<25 67 (10)
25-39 346 (49)
30-54 227 (32)
>54 59 (8)
Sex    
Male 502 (72)
Female 197 (28)
High school graduation    
Yes 615 (88)
No 84 (12)
Type of job    
Professional 168 (24)
Other 531 (76)
Driving experience (yrs)    
0-9 137 (20)
10-19 246 (35)
20-29 188 (27)
>29 128 (18)
Cellular telephone experience (yrs)    
0 or 1 223 (32)
2 or 3 174 (25)
4 or 5 158 (23)
6 or greater 144 (21)
Type of cellular telephone    
Hand-held 551 (79)
Hands-free 148 (21)
Time of collision    
Dawn 19 (3)
Morning 268 (38)
Afternoon 248 (35)
Evening 145 (21)
Night 18 (3)
Late night 1 (<1)
Day of collision    
Sunday 20 (3)
Monday 133 (19)
Tuesday 126 (18)
Wednesday 159 (23)
Thursday 136 (19)
Friday 113 (16)
Saturday 12 (2)
Location of collision    
High-speed location 597 (85)
Low-speed location 102 (15)
  1. Consult the table above.
    1. What conclusions, if any, about a causal link between motor vehicle crashes and cell phone usage can you make from this table? Justify your answer. (2 points)


    2. Based on your answer to part (a) of this question, how can the data in this table be used by the disease detectives. (1 point)


Now examine Table 2 below. Investigators used a special statistical technique for generating risk estimates shown in
Table 2.

Table 2: Relative risk of a motor vehicle collision in
10-minute periods, according to selected characteristics

Characteristic Number with telephone use in the 10 minutes before the collision Relative risk
All subjects 170 4.3
Age (yr)    
<25 21 6.5
25-39 95 4.4
30-54 44 3.6
>54 10 3.3
Sex    
Male 123 4.1
Female 47 4.8
High school graduation    
Yes 153 4.0
No 17 9.8
Type of job    
Professional 34 3.6
Other 136 4.5
Driving experience (yrs)    
0-9 40 6.2
10-19 67 4.3
20-29 36 3.0
>29 27 4.4
Cellular telephone experience (yrs)    
0 or 1 51 7.8
2 or 3 39 4.0
4 or 5 36 2.8
6 or greater 44 4.1
Type of cellular telephone    
Hand-held 129 3.9
Hands-free 41 5.9
  1. Use the data in Table II to give a profile of drivers who own cellular phones who are at greater risk of a motor vehicle crash. Explain how you reached your conclusion. (2 points for profile; 2 points for explanation)


  2. Disease Detectives frequently use a construct known as the agent/host/environment triad to understand disease and injury occurrence and prevention. Specify the components of this triad for the problem of motor vehicle crashes associated with cell phone usage. (3 points)


  3. Suppose you are a student in Colorado Springs High School and have been asked by your science teacher to critique this study. List at least two limitations to your conclusions. (2 points)


  4. The Toronto Disease Detectives concluded that the increased risk of having a motor vehicle collision while using a cellular telephone was similar to the hazard associated with driving with a blood alcohol level at the legal limit. Based on your analysis of the risk profile, the agent/host/environment triad, and any study limitations, what are examples of two different kinds or categories of interventions? (2 points)


Answer Key

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This page last reviewed August 27, 2004

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