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Cellphones, Distracted Driving, Cell Phone Ban In Vehicles??

The National Transportation Safety Board has called for a ban on all cellphone use by drivers-including the use of hands-free devices. It is the most far-reaching such recommendation to date, based on a decade of investigations into distracted driving accidents, as well as concern that the increasing popularity of smart phones may give drivers even more reasons to look away from the road.

Increased reliance on cellphones has led to a rise in the number of people who use the devices while driving. There are two dangers associated with driving and cellphone use, including text messaging and using the Internet, jeopardizing the safety of vehicle occupants and pedestrians. First, drivers must take their eyes off the road and hands off the wheel to manipulate the devices when dialing, texting and surfing the Web. Second, people can become so absorbed in their conversations and other uses that their ability to concentrate on the act of driving is severely impaired. Since the first law was passed in New York in 2001 banning hand-held cellphone use while driving, there has been debate as to the exact nature and degree of hazard. The latest research shows that using a cellphone when driving is just one of many types of distracted driving that may lead to crashes and near crashes.


■Statistics: In September 2010 the Transportation Department released a report showing that the number of fatalities linked to distracted drivers declined 6 percent in 2009, compared with the previous year. According to the report, 5,474 people were killed in 4,898 crashes caused by distraction in 2009, compared with 5,838 killed in 5,307 crashes in 2008. However, because the total number of traffic crashes declined slightly in the U.S. last year, distracted driving was a factor in 16 percent of crashes and fatalities in both 2008 and 2009. The number of people injured in crashes linked to distractions declined 4 percent, or 448,000, and accounted for 20 percent of all injuries in highway accidents. The number of deaths caused by distracted driving in 2009 increased 22 percent, compared with 2005, although the total number of fatalities declined by 22 percent during the same period. In 2005 only 10 percent of crashes were caused by distraction.

■New Technology: A number of cellphone companies are considering developing technology that will prevent people from receiving calls and texting while driving. The technology is intended to limit dangerous distractions by temporarily interrupting service so that people do not answer their phones when they are behind the wheel. One carrier has already introduced a service that automatically disables rings and alerts and sends calls to voice mail when phones are in a moving car. Some safety advocates said that it is unclear whether consumers would avail themselves of the technologies or whether the technologies would be effective.

■Research: According to a new survey conducted for the American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety, more than one-third of drivers (35 percent) acknowledged that they had read or sent a text message while driving over the past month and over two-thirds (67 percent) said they had used a cellphone. Nevertheless, the survey found that 95 percent of drivers consider text messaging while driving a dangerous threat and 88 percent say the same about talking on a cellphone. The survey also found that 87 percent of respondents support laws against text messaging while driving, 70 percent want laws against the use of hand-held cellphones and about 50 percent said cellphone use should be completely banned while driving.

■Studies about cellphone use while driving have focused on several different aspects of the problem. Some have looked at its prevalence as the leading cause of driver distraction. Others have looked at the different risks associated with hand-held and hands-free devices. Still others have focused on the seriousness of injuries in crashes involving cellphone users and the demographics of drivers who use cellphones. Of increasing concern is the practice of texting and, with the growth of popularity of so-called smartphones, high-tech cellphones with computer-like features, surfing the Internet while driving.

The following is a summary of some recent research on the issue.

■In an informal online survey conducted by a large insurance company in November 2010, approximately one in five drivers acknowledged surfing the Internet while behind the wheel. In the survey, more than 19 percent of respondents admitted to having gone online via a cellphone at least once a week while driving, 74 percent reported making or receiving calls at least once a week while driving and 35 percent reported sending or receiving text messages as frequently. The company said that it plans to conduct a more thorough study in 2011. The insurer said that the 19 percent estimate of Web use might be low because most respondents to the survey were in their 30s, while the largest users of cellphones tend to be younger.

■Public Attitude Monitor 2010: Texting While Driving, a survey released in November 2010 by the Insurance Research Council, found that 18 percent of drivers in the U.S. reported texting while driving in the last 30 days. This figure includes 31 percent of drivers age 16 to 24, 41 percent of drivers age 25 to 39 and only 5 percent of drivers 55 and older.

■A study by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), released in September 2010, found that texting bans may not reduce crash rates. The study looked at collision claims patterns in four states—California, Louisiana, Minnesota and Washington—before and after text bans went into effect. Collisions went up slightly in all the states, except Washington, where the change was statistically insignificant. Adrian Lund, president of HLDI and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said that the findings “call into question the way policymakers are trying to address the problem of distracted driving crashes. They’re focusing on a single manifestation of distracted driving and banning it. This ignores the endless sources of distraction and relies on banning one source or another to solve the whole problem.”

■A survey conducted for a large insurance company by Harris Interactive released in September 2010 found that a large percentage of teens between the ages of 14 and 17 strongly believe that drunk driving was more likely to cause a fatal accident than texting. More teens also thought that drunk driving was more likely than texting to cause a crash and result in ticketing and arrest. The survey seems to indicates that despite public awareness campaigns about the dangers of distracted driving many teens still do not understand the risk.

■Also in September 2010 the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released its third-annual Traffic Safety Culture Index, which reported that 52 percent of drivers said they feel less safe on the roads now than they did five years ago. The leading reason cited (88 percent) was distracted driving by motorists who drive while texting and emailing. The study also showed that while 62 percent of respondents feel that talking on a cellphone is a serious safety threat they do not always behave accordingly. Almost 70 percent of drivers surveyed admitted to talking on their phones, and 24 percent said they read or sent text messages or emails while driving in the previous month.

■A survey released in August 2010 showed that nearly 90 percent of teenage drivers acknowledged such distracted driving behavior as texting or talking on a cellphone although most respondents were aware that the behavior increased the risk of an accident. The online survey, conducted by Seventeen magazine and AAA, the auto club, gathered responses from 1,999 drivers between the ages of 16 and 19. Eighty-four percent said they were aware that distracted driving increased the risk of a crash, yet 86 percent acknowledged such behaviors as texting, talking on cellphones, eating, adjusting radios, applying makeup or driving with four or more passengers.

■A study released in January 2010 by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), shows that the number of traffic crashes have not declined in California, Connecticut, New York and Washington, DC, the three states and jurisdiction that prohibit drivers from using handheld cellphones. The study was based on an analysis of insurance claims for crash damage. Officials said more research is needed to clarify the findings, which run counter to the result of other IIHS research.

■Also in January 2010 the National Safety Council (NSC) released a report that estimates that at least 1.6 million crashes (28 percent of all crashes) are caused each year by drivers talking on cellphones (1.4 million crashes) and texting (200,000 crashes). The estimate is based on data of driver cellphone use from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and from peer-reviewed research that quantifies the risks using cellphones and texting while driving.

■State and Federal Initiatives: In September 2010 the Governors Highway Safety Association decided not to endorse a proposal calling for a total ban on cellphone use by drivers. In response to a California proposal calling for the group to ask state legislatures to consider a complete ban, the association questioned whether the prohibition could be enforced.

■In March 2010 the Treasury Department proposed that an interim plan prohibiting texting by drivers of interstate buses and trucks over 10,000 pounds announced by Transportation Secretary LaHood in January be made permanent. On October 1, 2009 President Obama signed an executive order prohibiting federal employees from texting while driving. The order applies to employees using cars or cellphones provided by the government or using their own cars or phones for government business. The order applies to some 4.5 million federal employees, including the military.

■The number of state legislatures debating measures that address the problem of cellphone use while driving and other driver distractions continues to rise.

■As of June 2011 ten states—California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Utah and Washington State—plus the District of Columbia, had laws on the books banning the use of hand-held cellphones while driving. Almost all of the laws have “primary enforcement” provisions, meaning a motorist may be ticketed for using a hand-held cellphone while driving without any other traffic offense taking place, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

■Also as of June 2011, 34 states and the District of Columbia banned the practice of texting with a cellphone while driving. Most of these laws have primary enforcement provisions. The Utah law, passed in May 2009, is the toughest in the nation. Offenders convicted of causing an accident that injures or kills someone while texting behind the wheel face up to 15 years in prison. The law does not consider a crash caused by a multitasking driver as a accident but rather as an inherently reckless act, like drunk driving.

■Businesses: Businesses are increasingly prohibiting workers from using cellphones while driving to conduct business. Exxon Mobil and Shell are examples of large companies that ban employees’ use of any type of cellphone while driving during work hours. The California Association of Employers recommends that employers develop a cellphone policy that requires employees to pull off the road before conducting business by cellphone.

■Court Decisions: In December 2007 International Paper Co. agreed to pay a $5.2 million settlement to a Georgia woman who was rear-ended by one of its employees. The employee was driving a company car and talking on a company cellphone at the time of the accident. The settlement was reached even though the employee had violated her company’s policy of requiring the use of hands-free headsets while driving. The suit is among the most recent of several cases where an employer has been held liable for an accident caused by a driver using a cellphone.
Article from the Insurance Information Institute, Inc website.