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As always, it ain't the crime, it's the cover-up. In what looks to be Congress protecting its turf, a planned study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on driver distraction – specifically, drivers using cell phones – was put on hold. The reason, according to The New York Times, was allegedly a fear of upsetting the Capitol body. The reason, according to an ex-head of NHTSA, was "to avoid antagonizing members of Congress who had warned the agency to stick to its mission of gathering safety data but not to lobby states."

In 2003, NHTSA already had "hundreds of pages" of research on the effects of multitasking while driving. And yes, as many Autoblog commenters have surmised, the research does indeed point to people using their cell phones being "as likely to cause an accident as someone with a .08 blood alcohol content." NHTSA officials also felt that hands-free systems weren't a safe enough solution – drivers were still too distracted.

But when the safety agency drafted a letter to then Transport Secretary Norman Mineta that included policy recommendations, the head of the agency began hearing complaints about NHTSA overstepping its bounds. Congress, it was said, "warned the agency not to use its research to lobby states." As the story goes, the threat to NHTSA was that if it upset Congress, it "could jeopardize billions of dollars of its financing."

So instead of going forward with a focused study of cell phone usage that would include 10,000 drivers, the agency shelved everything and stayed quiet. Due to Freedom of Information Act requests, the research gathered up to now is being revealed. But there is still the issue of Congress holding back information that, frankly, could save lives.

What do you think? Do you use your mobile phone while driving? Do you think doing so should be illegal? Drop your fellow reader a line in 'Comments.'

[Source: The New York Times | Image: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty]

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      Even without cell phones, between 25 and 33 percent of the driving public has no business behind the wheel. Every day I see insanely stupid driving by motorists not on the cell. But the attitude here is that driving is a God given right.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I do use my phoen in the car, though I try to avoid it most of the time. I always call handfree, which I think helps, but clearly it's still a distraction.

      Should all calling be made illegal? No way! No texting makes sense and requiring handfree is a small but reasonable step, but making all calls illegal is going too far. Afterall, it's hardly the only distraction - how about talking with passengers, listening to music, eating a snack? We can't legislate out everything.

      Maybe one answer is to create added legal/criminal liability if you are involved in an accident while talking on the phone or texting. Of course, no one ever thinks they're going to be in an accident, but a few examples of people getting sued or having jail time because they were on the phone might make some think twice before chatting away.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I don't think you should use your cellphone while driving a car. I've noticed in my own driving that I don't pay nearly much attention that I should, so after a scare I had with a near miss, I wait to answer texts when I arrive where I need to be and I don't talk on the phone whatsoever when driving.
      My friends like to answer texts while driving and I've had to grab the wheel many times because they wouldn't watch where they were going while texting.
      If someone receives an important call I think the best thing to do is wait until you can pull over somewhere where you're not in the way of other drivers and call back and explain that you were driving. No one is going to be angry at you for be a responsible person and waiting for an appropriate time to call back.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The fact that you've even attempted to answer a text while driving is what scares me...
      • 5 Years Ago
      Democracies with lobbies ain't true democracies. But it's just my opinion, and who cares?
        • 5 Years Ago
        "Thank you for calling", may I add.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I rarely talk on the phone while driving. I dont make calls, and if I receive a call I will usually either let it go to voicemail and call them back later or answer and tell them I will call them back in a bit.

      Not to mention it is already illegal to talk on the phone while driving in New Mexico(where live for more than half of the year).
      • 5 Years Ago
      Cell usage of any kind should absolutely be illegal while driving. Talking, texting, anything cell-related.
      People are distracted enough by tvs and radios in cars, and those animated billboards along city streets. Cell use is just as preventable as drinking, and the punishment for doing so while driving should be just as severe.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I only use my phone through the bluetooth system in my car. If the text message notification or email notification goes off I don't even look at it.
      • 5 Years Ago
      we are all forgetting:

      "People" are only marginally smarter than the "government". This whole thing is like two retarded kids fighting over who gets to go tattle.

      If you need a government study to tell you that driving while talking on the phone/txting/eating/shaving/etc is dangerous then you need to go sit in time out.

      I don't get behind either side and I won't bash either side. What I stand behind are smart choices. If you are doing 75mph and are 5 feet from each others bumpers, DON't answer your phone while sacrificing attention on the road, on the other hand, if you are the only one on the road and its 2am, there is little harm.

      On the other hand if you are so passionate about this issue, you might just want to sell your car/phone/bicycle and stay in the house and never go outside again.
        • 5 Years Ago
        "on the other hand, if you are the only one on the road and its 2am, there is little harm."

        Do you feel the same way about driving under the influence?

      • 5 Years Ago
      I would rather it be my choice If I decide to take an emergency call and keep it at a minimum, because I do think that it's a major distraction while driving. The biggest reason why it's a problem, is because it forces you to only use one hand on the wheel. But, talking on your wireless headset should not be illegal, because it equals someone having a conversation with passengers in the car. What, are they going to outlaw everyone from having conversations with their passengers. Imagine that?
      I have no problem with banning cell phones while driving, but please stay away from wireless headsets, cause it doesn't make any sense to outlaw that!
      • 5 Years Ago
      Guilty as charged. I try hard to stay off the phone when driving but sometimes cannot avoid it. Yes I try to make sure I'm fully aware of my surroundings but know only too well that me on a cell phone plus others on cell phones is a bad idea. We need to get the word out that lolly-gagging and driving don't mix.

      I once saw a woman in Boston in a Saab convertible blow through a red light yakking away and nearly wiped out a pedestrian. She had no clue what she'd done until I caught up with her at the next light and rolled down my window, interrupting her phone call, and told what she had just done. Her face was a red as the car.

      One day I'm sure we'll see people winning car crash settlements because the other driver was on the phone at the same time as the crash. And the telecoms will fight giving up that info too no doubt.
      • 5 Years Ago
      We can't use hand held phones in Nova Scotia since last year. It really hasn't affected me anyway, as I KNOW I'm too distracted before there was laws anyway. Especially since getting a manual car. I just let it ring before, and now (or pull over into a parking lot).

      We're allowed hands-free devices though, like blue-tooth. Although I would find an ear piece almost as distracting for drowning out noise.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I hate the idea of legislating what you can and can't do in the car.

      On the other hand, people are so irresponsible when it comes to driving. Out here in Phoenix, 9 times out of 10 when I see a car next to me veering into my lane, waiting until the last minute to react to traffic, or doing the "I'm just going to change lanes real slow and not pay attention and hope that people around me don't hit me" technique, they're on the phone. And it's not uncommon for me to notice that at least half of the drivers around me are talking on their phones.

      I'm starting to care less and less about extending the common courtesies that are a usual part of responsible driving- when most everyone around you isn't even paying attention to their environment why should you care about them? You distracted oblivious drivers, I want to get away from you as fast as I can.

      I think this is a problem that should be and possibly may be solved on a cultural level... why don't we try to put education and propaganda to good use for once instead of enacting more laws. If people generally had more respect for the activity of driving as well as other drivers, this wouldn't be such a huge problem.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Don't do it ara! Don't become part of the problem.

        Passengers in my car complain that I won't go into the right lane to pass the leftist in front of me. I just keep on sitting behind him, waiting for him to finish passing that invisible motorist next to him that forced him into the passing lane. But passing on the right makes me just as bad as him. And as soon as I give up my safety and efficiency based principles, it adds just a little bit more to you wanting to give up yours. And so on, and so on. You're not the only one out there. There are a handful of us left intelligent and considerate enough to still understand and follow the rules. We still appreciate it, even if most the fools around you don't.
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