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Directions in Highway Safety, Winter 2009 Cover Page Download Newsletter pdf
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Winter 2009 | Vol. 12 | No. 1

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Cell Phone Use and Driving Garners Attention

Cell phone use while driving continues to be a major area of interest for legislators, safety groups and the national media. A new report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (AAAFTS) and a new policy position from the National Safety Council (NSC) generated recent buzz on the issue.

In December, AAAFTS released a survey reporting that two-thirds of Americans who use cell phones while driving believe it is safer to talk on a hands-free phone compared to a handheld device. However, scientific research shows that is not the case. Multiple studies have concluded that any cell phone use while driving is distracting and hands-free offers little to no safety benefit.

In early January, the NSC attracted national and international attention when it announced its new position that every state should ban ALL cell phone use while driving. NSC is the first major national safety organization to take this position.

"Studies show that driving while talking on a cell phone is extremely dangerous and puts drivers at a four times greater risk of a crash," said Janet Froetscher, president and CEO of the NSC. "Driving drunk is also dangerous and against the law. When our friends have been drinking, we take the car keys away. It's time to take the cell phone away."

Cell Phone

To promote its policy, the NSC plans an aggressive three-fold approach: advocating legislation; educating the public and businesses; and including distracted driving in its training of 1.5 million people annually in its defensive driver training courses.

The increased focus on the dangers of cell phone use and driving is welcomed by GHSA. GHSA Chairman Vernon Betkey indicated the organization would work with AAAFTS, NSC and other safety groups to educate the public about the dangers of distracted driving. However, GHSA does not support broad cell phone bans given the difficulty in enforcing them.

GHSA advocates bans in limited instances-for novice drivers and school bus drivers. The Association continues to call on employers to institute policies banning the practice for employees on the job. Chairman Betkey also points to technology as a potential remedy. Aegis Mobility, for example, offers DriveAssist, a product that can prevent non-emergency cell phone use while driving.

In 2008, 30 states considered hand-held bans, while numerous other states successfully banned the practice for novice drivers and bus drivers. With the increased attention, 2009 promises to be an even busier year legislatively.

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