The hope that using hands-free cell phones while driving is safer than talking on a hand-held phone while operating a motor vehicle went out the window after news surfaced that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration withheld research as far back as 2003 showing that use of any kind of cell phone when driving is dangerous. Researchers even went so far as to draft a letter expressing concern that laws banning hand-held cell phones would not be enough to eliminate the safety risk.
Just talking on the phone is a form of distracted driving—it doesn’t matter whether you are holding the phone or using a headset. Talking on a cell phone slows a motorist’s reaction time and takes his or her attention off the road and away from driving and can cause a motor vehicle crash.
Apparently, NHTSA researchers knew as far back as 2002 that cell phone use while driving caused 240,000 traffic accidents and almost 1,000 motor vehicle deaths that year. Yet a former NHTSA head says he was encouraged to hold back the information so as not to anger Congress. The agency was warned to focus on gathering facts, rather than lobbying states to come up with tougher driving laws regarding wireless devices.
If only this information was made available to the public back then, talking on the phone and text messaging while driving may not have become unsafe driving habits that have grown to such epidemic proportion that some states have passed laws restricting cell phone use while driving. Now, even though motorists finally know how dangerous talking on a cell phone and texting while driving can be, many of them are finding it hard to stop.
How many lives could have been saved if this information had come to the surface six years ago? The traffic accident toll from cell phone use—currently about 2,600 fatalities, 636,000 traffic accidents, and 330,000 a year—has almost doubled in less than a decade. Even now, not all US states have laws banning hand-held cell phones. In Oregon, HB2377 was recently passed by legislators seeking to ban hand-held phones while driving. Hands-free cell phones, however, would still be allowed.
Each day, in many US states, hundreds of thousands of drivers continue to talk on hands-free cell phones while driving because they think that they are actually practicing safe driving habits. Meantime, one study from University of Utah psychologists equates cell phone use while driving to drunk driving.
Withheld research confirms driving danger of cell phone use, DelawareOnline.com, July 24, 2009
NY Times: Federal agency withheld warnings about distracted driving risks, Bikeportland.org, July 21, 2009
Related Web Resources:
US Wireless Communication Devices While Driving, NY Times, July 2003
Drivers on Cell Phones are as Bad as Drunks, University of Utah
Contact Portland, Oregon Injury Lawyer Matt Kaplan to discuss your case.