By Larry Carley (originally posted July 2009 - updated July 2013)
NHTSA says talking on a cell phone while driving is dangerous. Call the Safety Police!
A report in the New York Times says the NHTSA has research that shows cell phone usage distracts drivers from paying attention, creating a potential safety hazard that can increase the risk of having an accident. Yet NHTSA withheld this information from Congress for fear it would anger the politicians.
Since when do politicians pay any attention whatsoever to facts? Once they have a preconceived notion about a topic, or have taken a political position (mainly to get themselves re-elected), nothing can change their mind, except perhaps a large enough campaign contribution.
The NHTSA findings were obtained by the Center for Auto Safety and Public Citizen through Freedom of Information requests, according to the newspaper report. The key findings were:
* Cell phone usage by drivers increased 50 percent, from 4 percent in 2000 to 6 percent in 2002.
Personally, I think the NHTSA data is inaccurate and out-of-date. From my own personal observations while driving, I'd say cell phone usage is more like half of all drivers, and about 90% of all women drivers!
* Driver distraction contributes to about 25 percent of all police-reported traffic crashes.
This number is probably accurate. On the other hand, if they didn't have a cell phone in their hand, they wouldn’t be able to call 911 to report the accident. That drastically reduces the response time of rescue workers and probably saves lives.
* Cell phone use is growing as a distraction while driving.
True, but there are a lot of other things that cause distractions while driving:
Billboards, signs and advertising clutter along the road, eating while driving, smoking while driving, reading while driving, applying makeup while driving, playing with the radio while driving, playing with or reading the GPS navigation system while driving, listening to controversial Talk Radio personalities while driving, watching out for speed traps, watching out for Red Light cameras, screaming children or crying babies in the back seat, pets jumping around inside the car, back seat drivers giving directions and driving instructions, groceries falling off the seat when braking, etc., etc., etc.
Part of being a competent driver is learning how to keep one eye on the road while multi-tasking and tuning in what is important and tuning out what is not.
* The NHTSA recommends that drivers NOT use their cell phones while driving except in an emergency.
Money-hungry municipalities are using this as an excuse to pass laws forbidding the use of cell phones while driving so they can rake in more revenue from the motoring public. Should they ban texting while driving? Absolutely! Ban using a cell phone in a work zone? Yes! But I don't think they should ban talking on a cell phone while driving. Of course, the ability to talk and drive at the same time depends on the circumstances, traffic conditions and the driver.
Personally, I usually avoid talking on a cell phone while driving. Why? Because it's distracting and dangerous in heavy traffic. But on the open road with little traffic, it's no more hazardous than listening to the radio.
I don't think cops should be pulling people over and writing tickets for using a cell phone while driving.
A good driver will know when it is safe to talk on a cell phone while driving and when it is not. A bad driver won't. Making it illegal won't change the bad habits of bad drivers. It' will only penalize the good drivers.
According to government statistics, over 100,000 accidents occur every year as a result of driving and texting. Texting takes your eyes off the road as well as your brain, so I encourage all drivers to take the It Can Wait pledge. If you have to send a text or reply to a message, pull over, stop and send your text, or just wait until later.
Texting when you are stopped at a stop light or stop sign is certainly safer than texting while driving. But it can be VERY ANNOYING to the drivers behind you who are waiting for you to wake up and see the the light has changed to green or that the cars behind you are waiting for you to go. Be courteous to other drivers so they don't have to honk at you because you are still texting.
I would recommend downloading a driving app for your cell phone such as Safely Go or Safe Driving Text Machine that automatically responds with a custom message when you receive a text while driving.
Verizon Wireless was the first wireless carrier to advocate common-sense legislation to limit or ban cellphone use while driving. As of this writing 39 states have passed laws banning or restricting texting while driving. Why? Because distracted driving killed 3,000 people in 2011. That's something to think about!