SAFETY: NHTSA Advises Against Cell Phone Use in Cars
Federal officials at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration yesterday announced that they will begin to advise Americans not to use cellular phones, navigation screens or other distracting non-automotive instruments while driving, citing an increased risk of motor vehicle accidents, the Wall Street Journal reports. Although the agency will not attempt to ban the use of such devices while driving outright, its move will likely encourage the automobile and telecommunications industries to focus on product safety out of fear that the government's warning could be used as evidence of liability in accident lawsuits against the industries. "NHTSA's consumer information will now include advice that growing evidence suggests using a wireless phone or other electronic device while driving can be distracting," NHTSA Deputy Administrator Rosalyn Millman said at an NHTSA public hearing yesterday, which was attended by representatives of the government, auto industry, safety groups and cellular phone makers. She added that electronic gadget manufactures "are responsible for understanding the safety implications of their devices" and should design them with safety concerns in mind. In the past five years, 37 states have considered legislation on cell phone restriction in cars; although only California, Florida and Massachusetts have passed bills, several cities and foreign countries have enacted regulations. Due to safety and liability concerns, some large employers have considered forbidding employees to use cell phones while driving. Despite these concerns, industry representatives contend that cell phones serve a safety purpose by enabling drivers to immediately report accidents and argue that existing state laws against reckless driving are sufficient to address the problem (Ball, 7/19). But the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety says distracted drivers cause at least 4,000 accidents per day, and a 1997 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that speaking on cell phones while driving increased the risk of accidents four times, nearly equating it with the risk of drunk driving ( AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch, 7/19).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.