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Monday, July 31, 2006

Cell phones and driving

I found this article in III - Cell Phones and Driving. The piece discusses the growing use of cell phones while driving. It continues with a discussion on the dangers of doing so. One such danger is the driver taking their eyes of the road to dial the number. The second and greatest danger is the conversation itself. The driver can become so involved in the conversation that they are no longer paying attention to the road. Here is the article to read.

Cell Phones and Driving

In the United States over 212 million people used cell phones as of April 2006, compared with approximately 4.3 million in 1990, according to the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association. Increased reliance on cell phones has led to a rise in the number of people who use the devices while driving. There are two dangers associated with driving and cell-phone use. First, drivers must take their eyes off the road while dialing. Second, people can become so absorbed in their conversations that their ability to concentrate on the act of driving is severely impaired, jeopardizing the safety of vehicle occupants and pedestrians. Since the first law was passed in New York in 2001 banning hand-held cell-phone use while driving, there has been debate as to the exact nature and degree of hazard. The latest research shows that while using a cell phone when driving may not be the most dangerous distraction, because it is so prevalent it is by far the most common cause of this type of crash and near crash.

Studies: Studies about cell-phone 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 cell-phone users and the demographics of drivers who use cell phones. Below is a summary of some recent research on the issue.

A study released in April 2006 found that almost 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes involved some form of driver inattention within three seconds of the event. The study, The 100-Car Naturalistic Driving Study, conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), breaks new ground. (Earlier research found that driver inattention was responsible for 25 to 30 percent of crashes.) The new study found that the most common distraction is the use of cell phones, followed by drowsiness. However, cell-phone use is far less likely to be the cause of a crash or near-miss than other distractions, according to the study. For example, while reaching for a moving object such as a falling cup increased the risk of a crash or near-crash by 9 times, talking or listening on a hand-held cell phone only increased the risk by 1.3 times. The study tracked the behavior of the 241 drivers of 100 vehicles for more than one year. The drivers were involved in 82 crashes, 761 near crashes and 8,295 critical incidents.

These findings confirm an August 2003 report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety that concluded that drivers are far less distracted by their cell phones than by other common activities, such as reaching for items on the seat or glove compartment or talking to passengers. That study was based on the analysis of videotapes from cameras installed in the vehicles of 70 drivers in North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

In December 2005 the NHTSA and the National Center for Statistics and Analysis released the results of their National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS), which found that in 2005, 6 percent of drivers used hand-held cell phones, up from 5 percent in 2004. The survey also found that the jump was most noticeable among women (up to 8 percent from 6 percent in 2004) and young drivers ages 16 to 24 (up to 10 percent from 8 percent in 2004). The percentage of men using cell phones rose from 4 to 5 percent over the same period. Finally, the survey found that the number of drivers using headsets rose from 0.4 percent in 2004 to 0.8 percent in 2005. The NOPUS is a probability-based observational survey. Data on driver cell-phone use were collected at random stop signs or stoplights only while vehicles were stopped and only during daylight hours.

Motorists who use cell phones while driving are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves, according to a study of drivers in Perth, Australia, conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The results, published in July, 2005, suggest that banning hand-held phone use won't necessarily improve safety if drivers simply switch to hand-free phones. The study found that injury crash risk didn't vary with type of phone.

Many studies have shown that using hand-held cell phones while driving can constitute a hazardous distraction. However, the theory that hands-free sets are safer has been challenged by the findings of several studies. A study from researchers at the University of Utah, published in the summer 2006 issue of Human Factors, the quarterly journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, concludes that talking on a cell phone while driving is as dangerous as driving drunk, even if the phone is a hands-free model. An earlier study by researchers at the university found that motorists who talked on hands-free cell phones were 18 percent slower in braking and took 17 percent longer to regain the speed they lost when they braked.

A September 2004 study from the NHTSA found that drivers using hand-free cell phones had to redial calls 40 percent of the time, compared with 18 percent for drivers using hand-held sets, suggesting that hands-free sets may provide drivers with a false sense of ease.

State and Federal Initiatives:

The number of state legislatures debating measures that address the problem of cell-phone use while driving and other driver distractions continues to rise. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, over two-thirds of states looked at bills that would restrict the use of cell phones while driving in the first part of 2005. Four states — Colorado, Delaware, Maryland and Tennessee — banned their use by young drivers in 2005. In May, the city of Chicago banned the use of hand held cell phones while driving, imposing penalties of $50 or $200 (the latter if the driver is involved in an accident).

In October 2005 a Connecticut law banning the use of hand-held cell phones while driving went into effect. The measure goes further than some similar laws in other states and municipalities. Drivers in Connecticut can be fined $100 not only for using a cell phone, but those pulled over for speeding or other moving violations can be fined for other driving distractions such as putting on makeup or turning to discipline children in the back seat. In January 2004 New Jersey passed a bill prohibiting the use of cell phones while driving and in April of that year the District of Columbia (DC) followed suit. In New Jersey fines range between $100 and $250; in DC fines are $100. New York was the first state to enact such legislation in 2001. Drivers there face fines of $100 for the first violation, $200 for the second and $500 thereafter.

In June 2003 federal and state highway safety agencies issued new guidelines for reporting crashes caused by distracted drivers. The authorities are asking police across the nation to note whether a driver was distracted and the source of the distraction, such as cell phone, radio, passenger, or another vehicle.

Businesses: Businesses are increasingly prohibiting workers from using cell phones while driving to conduct business. In July 2004, the California Association of Employers recommended that employers develop a cell phone policy that requires employees to pull off the road before conducting business by cell phone.

Court Decisions: In December 2004 a civil case involving a car crash caused by a driver using a cell phone for business reasons was dismissed when the driver’s employer, Beers Skanska Inc., agreed to pay the plaintiff $5 million. The plaintiff in the case being heard in Georgia’s Fulton County Superior Court was severely injured in the crash. 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 cell phone. See background section on Employer and Manufacturer Liability.

In mid-October 2004 in the case of Yoon v. Wagner a Virginia jury awarded $2 million in damages to the family of a young girl who was killed by a driver using a cell phone at the time of the accident. The plaintiff also filed a suit against the driver’s employer after it became clear through an examination of phone records that the driver had been talking to a client when she hit the girl.


Cell phones play an integral role in our society. However, the convenience they offer must be judged against the hazards they pose. Inattentive driving accounted for 6.4 percent of crash fatalities in 2003 — the latest data available — according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Inattentive driving includes talking, eating, putting on make up and attending to children. Using cell phones and other wireless or electronic units are also considered distractions.

As many as 40 countries may restrict or prohibit the use of cell phones while driving. Countries reported to have laws related to cell phone use include Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Botswana, Chile, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Norway, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Singapore, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, the United Kingdom and Zimbabwe. Most countries prohibit the use of hand-held phones while driving. Drivers in the Czech Republic, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom may use cell phones but can be fined if they are involved in crashes while using the phone. Drivers in the United Kingdom and Germany also can lose insurance coverage if they are involved in a crash while talking on the phone.

Supporters of restrictions on driving while using a cell phone say that the distractions associated with cell phone use while driving are far greater than other distractions. Conversations using a cell phone demand greater continuous concentration, which diverts the driver’s eyes from the road and his mind from driving. Opponents of cell phone restrictions say drivers should be educated about the effects of all driver distractions. They also say that existing laws that regulate driving should be more strictly enforced.

Employer and Manufacturer Liability: Although only a handful of high-profile cases have gone to court, employers are still concerned that they might be held liable for accidents caused by their employees while driving and conducting work-related conversations on cell phones. Under the doctrine of vicarious responsibility, employers may be held legally accountable for the negligent acts of employees committed in the course of employment. Employers may also be found negligent if they fail to put in place a policy for the safe use of cell phones. In response, many companies have established cell phone usage policies. Some allow employees to conduct business over the phone as long as they pull over to the side of the road or into a parking lot. Others have completely banned the use of all wireless devices.

In an article published in the June 2003 edition of the North Dakota Law Review, attorney Jordan Michael proposed a theory of cell phone manufacturer liability for auto accidents if they fail to warn users of the dangers of driving and talking on the phone at the same time. The theory holds that maker liability would be similar to the liability of employers who encourage or demand cell phone use on the road. Holding manufacturers liable would cover all persons who drive and use cell phones for personal calls. Michael notes that some car rental agencies have already placed warnings on embedded cell phones in their cars.

In the state of California, the governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is attempting to push through the state legislature, a ban on the use of cell phones while driving. I can only wish him good luck. I found that article Schwarzenegger: Ban Cell Phones While Driving.

Californians who gab away on their hand-held cell phones while hold the steering wheel with only one hand driving will be fined for a traffic infraction if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has his way.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Schwarzenegger called such driving distractions "terrible" and "inexcusable" and added "We have to see if the right way to go is through a bill or any other way, but I think we must make sure that people don't use phones, because it not only endangers them but it endangers everyone else out there."

He has already threaten to impose penalties on his own daughter, telling the Times he has tailed his 16-year-old daughter, Katherine, while she was driving and warned her she would be taking the bus if he caught her using her cell phone while behind the wheel.

"I told her, I have had many, many conversations with her that if I ever catch her making a phone call while she is driving — and I sometimes follow her to make sure that she doesn't make that mistake — [that] I will take the car away from her and she can drive the bus because it's inexcusable."

Schwarzenegger added: "You're absolutely correct that more people get injured or die because of being on the phone or pressing all the sophisticated buttons in the car, because now every car comes with 100 buttons. So people look to the side and they miss what is going in the front or with the cell phone; it's the same thing. These are terrible things and I think we have to do everything we can to stop that."

Legally prohibiting use of hand held cell phones while driving has been a tough sell. In May, a bill banning the practice barely squeezed through the state Senate, with no votes to spare, the Times reported. It will be voted on in the Assembly next month; it had approved a similar measure in 2003, and the Times writes that its prospects are considered strong, noting that one committee has already endorsed it.

Democratic Sen. Joe Simitian of Palo Alto, the sponsor of the Senate bill, said he was encouraged by Schwarzenegger's comments. "Anyone who drives a Hummer probably knows how important it is to keep control of your vehicle," he told the Times.

Hopefully more states will get the clue and also look at banning the use of cell phones while driving. Some, like New York, do already. Those that do, unfortunately, usually make exceptions for hands-free devices. This ignores the most significant danger of the conversation itself. Cars.com has an interesting article written about this subject.

WASHINGTON — Detailed new research shows that using a cell phone behind the wheel is a key cause of traffic accidents and that hand-free devices provide little safety benefit, federal officials told an international automotive safety gathering Wednesday.

In a closely watched real-world study published Wednesday, a team from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration watched 100 drivers for a year, concluding that the use of electronic devices such as cell phones precipitated many crashes and near-misses.

Other NHTSA researchers said devices like head sets or voice-activated dialing led to longer dialing times than for those using hand-held phones. The delays offset the potential benefit of keeping both hands on the wheel.

In a nation of cell phone users, hands-free devices have been touted as a potential solution to growing driver distraction issues. New York banned drivers from using hand-held phones in 2001. New Jersey and the District of Columbia passed similar laws last year.

But whether drivers use a hand-held device or not, "phone use degraded both driving performance and vehicle control," said NHTSA's Elizabeth Mazzae.

The NHTSA-Virginia Tech team used cameras and internal car sensors to track the activities inside a vehicle immediately before a dangerous event, including crashes, near-crashes and "incidents" that required an evasive maneuver to avoid a crash.

The 100-car study showed such events and accidents were often preceded by distraction, and the most frequent distraction was the use of a cell phone or other electronic device.

There were nearly 700 incidents involving wireless devices, the study found.

The next most-frequent source of distraction was a passenger, which preceded a problem situation nearly 400 times. Eating — another common distraction — led to risky behavior just over 100 times.

The agency's research program is intended to test the assumption that hands-free phones are safe, NHTSA researcher Mazzae said during the International Technical Conference on the Enhanced Safety of Vehicles in Washington.

NHTSA officials have expressed concern that hands-free devices can give drivers a false sense of security, when research has shown that it is the act of conversation that leads to distraction and inattentive driver behavior.

Auto companies have been conducting their own research to gauge how well hands-free devices help drivers stay focused.

Jeff Greenberg, director of Ford Motor Co.'s driving simulator, has conducted a number of studies trying to break down which parts of cell phone conversations impair drivers. The research is building, but it is too soon to know what to do, he said.

"The preponderance of evidence suggests that long conversations while driving impair your ability to react to events," Greenberg said. "But it would be difficult to make rules about conversations in vehicles."

The federal research presented Wednesday adds to a growing body of studies that suggest hands-free cell-phone systems will not deliver the safety benefits automakers and legislators hoped for.

In 2003, for example, University of Utah professor David Strayer found cell-phone conversations can lead to a kind of "inattention blindness," as drivers fail to recognize objects or events in their field of view. Strayer found that drivers using hand-held and hands-free cell phones were equally impaired.

Drivers seem split on the issue. Some said their own experiences show that going hands-free can actually create additional problems for drivers."It's a distraction trying to keep the earpiece in your ear," said Benn Perry, 50, a Michigan resident who said he doesn't use the hands-free device his wife gave him.

Others aren't convinced of the dangers of cell phones.Greg Rosinski is a Canton, Mich., resident who uses his cell's speaker phone function. He said studies about the dangers of cell phone use while driving tend to exaggerate.

"Having a baby or even another person in the car is just as distracting," said Rosinski, a former account representative for a cell phone company. "I don't buy any of this scare tactics stuff. Cell phones are no more a cause of accidents than someone applying mascara or eating in the car."

Industry pushes the use of hands-free as a so called safe alternative. Of course they do. They are the ones who are trying to sell a product to the public and make a profit.


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