Did NHTSA’s Failure to Make Public in 2003 Findings About the Dangers of Cell Phone While Driving Cost Thousands of Lives?

July 21, 2009, by Michael A. DeMayo

According to the New York Times, in 2003 researchers at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed a study of 10,000 motorists to evaluate the dangers involved with using a cell phone while driving a motor vehicle. The researchers were concerned because of growing evidence that multitasking while driving could be dangerous.

The study however, never happened, and researchers opted not to make public hundreds of warnings and research about motorists and cell phone use. Officials say they were worried that revealing the information would anger Congress, whose members had warned the NHTSA to stay focused on gathering safety facts but not to lobby states. Today, all of the research is being made public after Public Citizen and The Center for Auto Safety, two consumer advocacy groups, filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

Critics say that the US Department of Transportation’s failure to make the information available sooner has cost lives and allowed cell phone use while driving to become a habit.

Findings included in the research:

• In 2002, 240,000 traffic accidents and 955 motor vehicle deaths were caused by cell phone use while driving.
• A draft letter that was never sent warned states that they weren’t certain that hands-free driving laws would eliminate the accident risk involved with cell phone use.
• The researchers actually wanted to recommend that drivers not talk on cell phones or text message while driving unless in an emergency situation.

While North Carolina law bans text messaging while driving, only school bus drivers and drivers younger than 18 are forbidden to use any kind of cell phone while driving. The state has no law banning handheld cellular or pda devices.

Cell phone use while driving is becoming a common cause of North Carolina car crashes. And for motorists that think they may be minimizing their injury risk by using hands-free cell phones, this may not necessarily be the case.

The National Safety Council just published a new study reporting that it is no less dangerous to talk on a hands-free cell phone while operating a car as it is to drive while holding a cell phone in one’s hand.

Talking on a cell phone or text messaging is considered negligent driving and can be grounds for a Charlotte car accident lawsuit.

U.S. Withheld Data on Risks of Distracted Driving, NY Times, July 20, 2009

Research on cell-phone-use-while-driving quashed by feds, Atlanta Journal Constitution, July 21, 2009

New Study in NSC Journal Shows Hands-Free Phones No Safer Than Hand-Held Phones, NSC.org, July 9, 2009

Related Web Resources:
Using Wireless Communication Devices while Driving, US Department of Transportation, July 2003

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration


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