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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: Plastic Bubble
By TomZ on 7/24/2009 4:13:54 PM , Rating: 4
And I think this is true: good drivers can still drive well enough even if distracted or impaired (intoxicated/sick/tired).
Sorry, but that's kind of stupid. I agree that there are varying levels of skill - both sober and drunk. But to suggest that certain people are somehow not affected and that their skills and responses are not affected when they are drunk is just nonsense.

Sure, if I'm drunk and have a short and unchallenging drive home, I might get away with it. But suppose someone steps out in front of my car requiring me to notice and react quickly. Being drunk could be the difference between life and death (and jail) in that case.

RE: Plastic Bubble
By hyvonen on 7/24/2009 7:03:52 PM , Rating: 2
But to suggest that certain people are somehow not affected and that their skills and responses are not affected when they are drunk is just nonsense.

Before calling my post stupid, you probably should read it more carefully, so you reply doesn't sound stupid.

I didn't suggest drinking doesn't affect some people at all. I did suggest, though, that some people are good enough drivers that even when slightly intoxicated, they are still capable of driving well enough to be less dangerous than some bad drivers who are not intoxicated.

Sure, alcohol increases your reaction time. But some people have better reflexes than others, so they can still react quickly enough, even when slightly intoxicated.

Note that reaction time alone doesn't make a safe driver; observing the traffic and being aware of dangerous situations also matter. An example: bad drivers can be so unfocused that they have no idea there is a car in their blind spot - a good driver would know the car is there even if he doesn't see it.

RE: Plastic Bubble
By someguy123 on 7/24/2009 8:18:04 PM , Rating: 3
first off, i was using the alcohol as an example of something that reduces concentration/increases reaction time, and that is currently illegal and by most people's standards has a right to be illegal.

anyway, the issue is not that you believe you can drive fine with a cellphone, the issue is that using a cellphone, regardless of how superior you are in driving, takes away some concentration. the issue with a cellphone isn't taking the hand off the wheel, the issue is that it affects concentration and reaction time almost as much as being drunk. i really don't care if you personally find yourself better than everyone else at driving, because making this legal would give ALL people the right to drive with a cellphone, even the people you deem to have worse reflexes and motor skills.

RE: Plastic Bubble
By hyvonen on 7/24/2009 9:00:09 PM , Rating: 2
The suggested solution somewhere towards the end of this discussion thread was to have significantly higher fines for traffic violations committed while using a cell phone. E.g., if you were running a red light AND were talking on the phone, the fine would be 3x higher.

I think that would act as a good deterrent against using a cell phone while driving if you can't handle it, without punishing those who can.

On another note: I think drivers who don't signal when turning/changing lanes should be fined. They are a menace to everyone's safety.

RE: Plastic Bubble
By hyvonen on 7/24/2009 9:09:16 PM , Rating: 3
Oh, and one more quick nitpick:

making this legal would give ALL people the right to drive with a cellphone, even the people you deem to have worse reflexes and motor skills.

Actually, it IS legal in many places; the question is, should it be made illegal everywhere. I'd say no, it should not be illegal.

I'm as annoyed as much as everyone by those who are on the phone and obviously distracted too much to drive safely (e.g., a Honda Odyssey driving 20mph below the speed limit, between two lanes). But instead of making it illegal to use a cell phone while driving, I'd say enforce the current traffic laws and fine these people (heavily) for driving between two lanes.

RE: Plastic Bubble
By someguy123 on 7/24/2009 10:55:39 PM , Rating: 2
yeah, that's true, i worded it incorrectly. i guess what i meant was that keeping it legal would mean that even poor drivers get the luxury.

the only problem i see with just increasing fines is that most people won't see this as a threat. honestly, everyone believes they are one of the few good drivers, including myself, and i really don't think increasing fines will deter anyone from driving while on the phone. knowing that just being on the phone, however, will deter people, especially during "citation week".

now i have confidence in my ability to drive with a cellphone, but realistically i know that it is taking away my concentration, so I just don't do it while I'm driving. unless it's some sort of emergency, I just don't see the need to decrease my concentration and increase my chance of getting into an accident for the luxury of having a chat on my phone while driving.

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