Report: NHTSA Buried Study on Cell Phone Dangers

**Didn’t want to anger Congress - Geeshh! Congress is more important than the citizenry.

Report: NHTSA Buried Study on Cell Phone Dangers

** The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gathered hundreds of pages of research and warnings about the hazards of drivers using cell phones, but withheld the information from the public in part out of fear of angering Congress, a newspaper reported Monday.**
The former head of the traffic safety agency, Dr. Jeffrey Runge, told The New York Times that he was urged to withhold the findings to avoid antagonizing members of Congress who warned the agency against lobbying states. Runge said transit officials told him he could jeopardize billions of dollars of its financing if Congress thought the agency had crossed the line into lobbying, the Times said.
Critics say that the failure of the Transportation Department to pursue the role of driving distractions in car crashes has resulted in traffic deaths and allowed multitasking while driving to grow.


I don’t know how many conversations I’ve had with relatives and friends who insist that they can drive as safely while speaking on a cell phone as not. My stand was always that simple common sense would indicate that it is NOT possible to be as safe talking on the phone while driving as is is to drive and not talk on the phone.

But, even with this article and the results of the study, I doubt behaviors will change unless cell phone use (including hands-free) while driving is outlawed, and even then, laws will be hard to enforce. After all, who hasn’t seen someone making poor decisions and not using basic common sense while driving? Saturday we saw someone texting while driving. I guess she was driving with her knees. She had both hands off the wheel texting and her eyes were downcast for quite a while before she glanced up toward the road. Needless to say, we moved away from her vehicle toward another lane as quickly as safety would allow to get away from her. I’ve seen people eating, drinking, reading, applying make-up and now texting while driving. With all the extras now in vehicles, distraction comes in many forms. Adjusting the AC or heater, putting in a CD, changing the radio station, following the OnStar or Garmin, all are distractions. A cell phone is just another longer-lasting distraction that we don’t need that negatively affects safety on the road. Sadly, knowing that still won’t prevent some from making poor decisions and resulting in tragedy for either themselves or someone else. And, I know some will argue that the study indicates that some people are more dangerous, but not them, they are still perfectly safe drivers and the results don’t apply to them. But, I would have to argue that the odds just haven’t caught up with them yet. Even so, I doubt I would be heard.

Check out this interactive test for texting while driving:

Yeah… guess I’m one of those bad ones… I am that guy that does other things while driving… including talking on the phone, reaching in the back seat for something, eating a foot long sub, playing with the radio… I must admit there are people that do not do it well… I know some people that should not even be adjusting the radio while driving. Others can do everything just fine without being unsafe.

To say that your eyes can leave the road in front of you is not really going to happen. People not only look at the radio on a regular basis, but also look out the windows, look down at the dash board, look at the passengers, check the mirrors, etc. The difference is whether the primary focus stays on the road or not.

In the case mentioned above, its obvious the attention was on the texting instead of the road. In the case of my friends that shouldn’t adjust the radio… they gave 90% of their attention to looking at/pushing the button on the radio VS watching the road and moving your hand to the button by memory/glancing at the radio. Most people are able to do these things no problem in most driving environments. Some people just never catch on how to maintain your primary focus on the road while doing other things. I don’t judge them, but I also dont know that everyone should be outlawed from talking on the phone either.

I think some folks can handle short-term distractions like those you mention (except for eating a sandwich), while others cannot. However, there is a difference between those short distractions and having a phone conversation while driving. The study seems to indicate that the majority of people cannot handle the steady distraction of a phone conversation while driving, rendering them very dangerous drivers when they drive and talk on the phone at the same time. That makes sense to me.

This test is cool, but not the best test because the way it is played. It needed the majority of your attention to be on the cell phone with the mouse. Real driving is not setup that way. You can keep your primary focus on the wheel while feeling the keys on your phone. I will say right now that not many people should be texting while driving and agree that it should likely be banned for how people generally use it. However, if you are careful… and do it slowly… by feel and memorizing the keys on the phone… it is possible to safely text. You just have to keep that primary focus on the road.

Cell phones are different than texting too. The majority of people are able to talk and drive at the same time. Reading/texting not so much.

After going through several red lights while talking on the cell phone I no longer do it.

Perhaps I do overestimate ‘most people’ as the report might show (I haven’t read it as I didn’t see a link to the report directly, only an opinion on it). I am rather biased as I am one of the ones that find myself able to do many things in the car that would make some cringe.

I find that for me, phone conversations are safer than conversations with passengers. It is much easier to tune out someone on the phone, or even drop the phone in my lap, when the driving situation demands more attention. On the other hand, I will often miss turns, and notice stop signs later, when talking with someone in the car.

Since Congress is the elected representatives of the citizenry, they certainly deserve some deference. In this case the question was whether it was NHTSA’s job to lobby state legislatures. Unless that’s clearly in their mandate, it’s a judgment call. Since Congress gets to decide how to fund NHTSA, and can easily specify in the next budget that no money be spent to complete the questionable project, and that other funding for the agency should be cut, it was a reasonable but unfortunate decision by NHTSA not to bite the hand that feeds it and jeopardize its core mission.

They did apparently publish a bibliography of all the studies, just not summaries of each study. My inclination would have been to leak this information, but the timing may have been poor. My suspicion is they didn’t feel the leak would gather much traction, with the Iraq War sucking up so much coverage, and not much opportunity to play one group against another with the legislative agenda of Congress and the presidency fairly unified at the time. Defying Congressional leaders, whether openly or with a leak, may have had minimal chance of changing the situation, but a high chance of damaging the agency’s funding.

I think I might be a bit sensitive to safety issues while driving because I learned from my Dad to always focus on the road and not be distracted by little things. From the time I was young, I recall that my Dad had the most intense focus on the road. When I got a office job downtown in the city (my first office job was in town) and my carpool would pass him on the road sometimes (we all lived in the country and commuted to the city for work then), we would try to get him to wave back at us, but to no avail because he kept his hands on the wheel and stayed focused on the road in front of him. (A friend of mine who I carpooled with recently made me laugh by commenting to me that she remembered that you could honk the horn, wave your arms, probably hang out the window naked and he still wouldn’t acknowledge you going by.) Later, I learned that he said the rosary while driving to and from work, so that likely was part of his intense focus, though now I wonder how safe that practice was. Maybe he was so focused on praying and driving that there was no room for anything else. I don’t know.

I do recall that as a young adult on some snow days, my Dad would sometimes drive my carpool when he could so he knew we were safe (backroads weren’t bladed nearly as well back then) and he was very intent on his driving. He generally didn’t say much while we girls talked and he drove.

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