Sunday, July 19, 2009
The New York Times is running a series on the dangers of using cellphones while driving. This article tells the heart wrenching story of a young man who caused a deadly auto accident because he never saw the red light while engaged in a cell phone conversation.
According to the NY Times research, studies show cell phone drivers have an equal crash risks as a drunk driver. The article cites a 2003 Harvard study asserting that "cellphone distractions caused 2,600 traffic deaths every year, and 330,000 accidents that results in moderate or severe injuries."
"Five states and the District of Columbia require drivers who talk on cellphones to use hands-free devices, but research shows that using headsets can be as dangerous as holding a phone because the conversation distracts drivers from focusing on the road."
"Last year, the federal agency dealing with road safety, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, published a study, based on researchers’ observations of drivers, suggesting that at any time during daylight hours in 2007, 11 percent — or 1.8 million drivers — were using a cellphone.
And in a survey of 1,506 people last year by Nationwide Mutual Insurance, 81 percent of cellphone owners acknowledged that they talk on phones while driving, and 98 percent considered themselves safe drivers. But 45 percent said they had been hit or nearly hit by a driver talking on a phone. "
"Seven years ago, when cellphones and services like texting were less common, federal researchers estimated that drivers using cellphones caused about 1,000 fatalities and played a role in 240,000 crashes. (In 2007, drunken driving caused 13,000 fatalities.) "
"University of Utah, Professor Strayer has spent a decade studying driver distraction.
Mr. Strayer’s research, showing that multitasking drivers are four times as likely to crash as people who are focused on driving, matches the findings of two studies, in Canada and in Australia, of drivers on actual roads."
"The highway safety administration estimates that drivers using a hand-held device are at 1.3 times greater risk of a crash or near crash, and at three times the risk when dialing, compared with others who are simply driving. The agency based its conclusions on research from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, which placed cameras inside cars to monitor drivers for more than a year. The study found cellphones to be the most common cause of driver distraction.
Research also shows that drivers conversing with fellow passengers do not present the same danger, because adult riders help keep drivers alert and point out dangerous conditions and tend to talk less in heavy traffic or hazardous weather. "
"July 2003, researchers at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration . . . in a proposed draft of a cellphone policy for the agency as a “a significant body of research worldwide.”
The draft policy said: “We are convinced that legislation forbidding the use of handheld cellphones while driving will not be effective since it will not address the problem. In fact, such legislation may erroneously imply that hands-free phones are safe to use while driving.”
The agency’s current advice is that people should not use cellphones while driving and that hands-free devices do not eliminate the risks of distracted driving. "
"the big device companies even offer warnings [of the dangers of cellphone driving] that remind them of labels on cigarette packs. Verizon Wireless, for instance, posts instructions on its Web sites not to talk while driving — with or without a headset."
". . .Some states have overcome opposition to pass restrictions. Joe Simitian, a state senator in California, managed to get his hands-free legislation, an effort he began in 2001, passed in 2006. . .his bill requiring use of headsets while driving took effect in July 2008. In the first six months the California law was in effect, a preliminary California Highway Patrol estimate showed that fatalities dropped 12.5 percent — saving 200 lives. "