NHTSA Call for Cell Phone Driving Ban Suppressed For Seven Years

The federal National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA) made a recommendation that cell phones not be used by drivers, except in cases of emergencies, because of their link to <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/car_accidents">traffic accidents, said MSNBC. That recommendation included hands-free cell phone use.

Unfortunately, the recommendation, which was made about seven years ago—2002 and 2003—was not released to the public until now, said MSNBC. Two public interest groups finally publicized the proposal—The Center for Auto Safety and Public Citizen—, which obtained the documents via a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act, MSNBC noted. This, after The Center for Auto Safety unsuccessfully attempted to obtain the information in 2008, ABC News pointed out.

According to a draft cell phone policy, the NHTSA stated, “We recommend that drivers not use these devices when driving, except in an emergency. Moreover, we are convinced that legislation forbidding the use of handheld cell phones while driving may not be effective in improving highway safety since it will not address the problem. In fact, such legislation may erroneously imply that hands-free phones are safe to use while driving,” MSNBC quoted.

That recommendation was kept from the public, partly over worries that members of Congress and other public officials would consider the proposal a move by the NHTSA that “crossed the line into lobbying,” The New York Times reported, according to MSNBC. When the proposal was made, there were over 170 million cell phone users in the U.S., which was, according to the NHTSA, “more than half of the U.S. population.” Today, there are over 270 million subscribers, with “wireless penetration totaling 87 percent of the population,” said MSNBC citing cell phone industry trade group CTIA-The Wireless Association.

ABC News noted that, according to the documents, talking on cell phones—whether with hands or hands-free—slows reaction time. “What the government knew is that talking and driving is just as bad as drinking and driving,” Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, told ABC News. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s handheld or hands-free … It’s the distraction of talking to someone else, the conversation itself that causes the inattention that leads to crashes, deaths, and injuries,” Ditlow added, quoted ABC News. Ditlow referred to the matter as a “cover up.”

According to excerpts of the NHTSA data, labeled “draft.” MSNBC quoted, in part: “Driver distraction contributes to about 25 percent of all police-reported traffic crashes. Though all distractions are a concern, we have seen the growth of a particular distraction, namely cell phone use while driving. While the precise impact cannot be quantified, we nevertheless have concluded that the use of cell phones while driving has contributed to an increasing number of crashes, injuries and fatalities.” The data also noted that research indicated “little, if any, difference between the use of hand-held and hands-free phones in contributing to the risk of a crash while driving distracted. Hands-free or hand-held, we have found that the cognitive distraction is significant enough to degrade a driver’s performance…. Consequently, we recommend that drivers not use a cell phone while driving.”

The NHTSA noted that, “at least 42 countries restrict or prohibit use of cell phones and other wireless technology in motor vehicles, and several more are considering legislation,” MSNBC quoted.

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