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The National Highway Safety Administration has suggested that state and local governments ban all cell phone activities from the road, including the use of hands-free headsets.  (Source:
Hands free devices also too risky, administration says

California made headlines when it began enforcing legislation that enacted pricey fines for those caught talking without hands free headsets or texting on their cell phone while driving.  The provision and similar ones across the country seem reasonable, considering that some studies found cell phones to impair driving more than even commonly abused drugs like alcohol or marijuana.  Many drivers in California did the seemingly logical thing -- switch to hand-free headsets.  However, some research indicated that even conversations on hands-free headsets can still be distracting and dangerous.

Now an unprecedented suggestion by the U.S. Highway Safety Administration has been revealed -- ban all cell phones on U.S. streets.  The suggestion was actually first made in 2002, but has only now been revealed, thanks to The Center for Auto Safety and Public Citizen, which filed a lawsuit to obtain documents from the agency under the Freedom of Information Act.

The NHTSA draft on cell phone policy states, “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."

The agency's request was reportedly shared with state traffic departments and select lawmakers, but was kept from even the majority of national lawmakers.  The agency feared that both members of Congress and the public would be upset at the report.

At the time when the report was made, there were 170 million cell phone subscribers in America, "more than half of the U.S. population".  There are now 270 million subscribers -- 87 percent of the population -- according to CTIA-The Wireless Association, the cell phone industry trade group.  According to the NHTSA report, "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 agency comments that in the research it has reviewed, hands free headsets were shown to provide "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."

The agency says that legislation against using cell phones while driving is a decision for states and local governments to make.  It urges them to consider bans and points out 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."

Even if cell phones are not outright banned, many places across the country increase traffic fines if a violation is committed while the offender is on their cell phone.

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RE: As bad as DUI
By clovell on 7/23/2009 10:09:42 AM , Rating: 1
No, it's not. Parallel real-world studies comparing hazard rates have simply not been done.

That said - I agree about texting while driving, though - I've done it, and nearly ended up in a 3 car collision. After that, I stopped. Hands-free is definitely the way to go, and I'd like to see more auto-manufacturers integrate bluetooth into their stereos.

If my phone could auto-link via bluetooth with my stereo when I turn my ignition on, it would save me a lot of hassle. Integrate that with voice recognition tech a la Microsoft's Synch and you've got a winner.

Why this type of thing has been regulated to the 'power user' is simply beyond me - virtually everybody has a car and a cell phone - it just makes sense....

RE: As bad as DUI
By deathman20 on 7/23/2009 10:37:08 AM , Rating: 3
Couldn't agree more with the blue-tooth portion of it. When I got my new car, one of the things TOP on my list was to make sure I had hands free in the car via bluetooth. Yes before I really hated having the mic attached to my headset, or making sure I hand my hands free headset there in the car. Let alone me digging in my pocket to get the phone out to talk.

As for all out banning it, I think not. I feel its more distracting talking to someone in the car since you can turn your head looking at them vs talking via hands free.

RE: As bad as DUI
By clovell on 7/23/2009 12:58:07 PM , Rating: 2
The most distracting part of a cell phone while you're driving, for me, is digging the damned thing out of my pocket when it rings, or dialing on it. Plugging in and synching a bluetooth headset is just a pain.

It'd be so nice to have everything integrated and seamless.

RE: As bad as DUI
By Mitch101 on 7/23/2009 1:54:46 PM , Rating: 2
I would like that too. One of my pet peeves is seeing someone driving a 65K car like crap with their cell phone to their ear. Wait you have 65k for a car but not $20.00 for a cheap blue tooth headset? But then they can probably afford the attorney when they screw up.

RE: As bad as DUI
By MrBlastman on 7/23/2009 1:58:52 PM , Rating: 3
Most people driving 65k cars lease them. Also, around here at least, it is not uncommon to see people driving these cars yet they live in an apartment or in a crappy run down neighborhood. The ones that don't typically are up to their eyeballs in debt and are leveraged like crazy.

So, no - they probably all can't afford the attorney. The majority of the time they are all flash, all show. Sad, but true.

All the wealthy individuals I know, with only a couple of exceptions, live in modest homes, drive average cars and don't have all that flashy stuff.

RE: As bad as DUI
By MrBlastman on 7/23/2009 10:42:05 AM , Rating: 4
You ever watch Mythbusters? They did a nice study on this, I suggest you look it up. Their conclusion - driving while talking on a cell phone was as hazardous, or even more hazardous than driving while intoxicated.

When I was rear-ended, the lady was on her cell phone. When my brother was rear-ended recently, the dude was on his cell phone. When a friend of mine pulled out into traffic causing a lady to hit him (it was his fault), he was on his cell phone talking with ME (so I'm partially responsible for talking to him at the time).

Coincidence? No. The cell phone was the distracting factor in all three of this incidents. Now, that is not to say accidents can't occur without cell phone use, they can. However, I am very convinced that all three of the above incidents would not have occured if the drivers had not been on their phones.

If people have to give up their priviledge of talking on the phone with driving, I really wouldn't mind at all if it potentially could reduce accidents. This will lower our insurance costs, lower our healthcare costs and increase safety on the roads. What is not to like about it? Your car is not your office (for the majority of people), it is a vehicle to get you from point A to point B. Give people the courtesy and decency to have a safe commute or drive to wherever they are going.

I live in a major city and will say that unless you also live in a major city, it will be harder to understand just how much of a distraction they create. The majority of the time I see someone doing something insane or silly on the road, they are on the phone.

Bluetooth is no help as the person on the other end of the line is not in your car, therefore not aware of what is going on around you. They can only help to distract you from what you are doing rather than aid it. Your mind is all of a sudden focusing on two places at once rather than one (in your head and out your windshield). If you have someone sitting in the passenger seat with you and talking, they have a second pair of eyeballs so they can help observe while the two of you are talking thus reducing the distractive effect. Three or four people - then perhaps no as this is pretty darned distracting. Hands free does not completely solve the problem. The average person is not capable of processing multiple inputs at one time.

RE: As bad as DUI
By clovell on 7/23/2009 12:55:01 PM , Rating: 1
Mythbusters did not perform a parallel, wide-scale study on real-world conditions and traffic data that adjusted for other factors. Someone eventually will, as state highway departments have only recently begun collecting the necessary data to do so. But today, it hasn't been done - not rigorously.

I can buy that it's dangerous. I can buy that it's something to be concerned about and to regulate. However, I won't buy some sensational claim that it's as dangerous as drinking and driving - not until I see the proof from a scientifically and statistically rigorous study. I deal with p-values and confidence intervals and models and stuff. I can respect Mythbuster's conclusions on this as proving the need for further study, but not as conclusive evidence that I'd do as well to have an open heineken in my hand as a cell phone while I'm on the road.

I live in Chicago, man. I take the Tri-State Tollway, which is under construction whenever it isn't snowing, in to work every day. I can tell you that the number one cause I see of accidents is people who are in too big of a hurry and are just jackasses about it.

I don't entirely buy the idea that bluetooth makes no difference. I'd just like to see some compromise on the issue.

RE: As bad as DUI
By lightfoot on 7/24/2009 12:29:45 AM , Rating: 3
There have been studies completed by the government that show that "Drivers’ Hands-Free Cell Phone Use Is Just as Hazardous as Handheld Use."

RE: As bad as DUI
By MrBlastman on 7/24/2009 10:49:55 AM , Rating: 3
I think I heard that they spent 20 million dollars on this study as well. It was not some light focus group but very extensive instead. I have not read it yet but, if true, I can't wait to hear what the supporters of cell phone driving will say after knowing the facts inside it.

RE: As bad as DUI
By FangedRabbit on 7/24/2009 1:13:49 PM , Rating: 2

I call BS. The problem is that cell phone use is often cited in an accident but isn't nescessarily the cause. They just tack it onto the data saying that a cell phone was involved.

I've personally had 2 such instances; once while sitting at a red light in heavy traffic and somone rear ended me. I had been sitting there for some time and while I was on my phone, it was in now way involved in the incident. I was rear ended another time because the other driver was trying to pick his phone up off the floor of his car and wasn't watching the road. It could have been anything he was trying to pick up, but they try to cite cell phone involvement when they throw around statistics. If they started tracking and citing all sources of distraction causing accidents, I'm sure they would find that cell phones only account for a small fraction of incidences.

The reality is that taking your attention off the road for any reason is the danger. Kids, passengers, billboards, radios, GPS, the hot chick in the car next to you...they all cause you to take your attention off the road. It isn't feasible to try to remove the distractions, instead they should focus on distraction management.

What about smart phones? Someone might not be talking on their phone, they could be reading an email or fiddling with the music player. I've seen people reading books while driving so WTF. The cellphone is just a scapegoat because someone in NHTSA got cut off by a teenage girl with a phone glued to her ear.

As for hands free devices, they make things even worse! How long do you have to take your attention off the road to find and use a hands free device VS just answering the call?

NHTSA needs to pull their heads out of their asses and grow up. This is stupid.


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