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July 24, 2009
NHTSA Report Finds Hands-Free Cell Phone Use Still a Distraction to Drivers

The Center for Auto Safety (CAS) and Public Citizen has released a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report, Using Wireless Communication Devices While Driving, last updated July 2003. The report was released subsequent to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

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Among the report's findings were that at least 25 percent of crashes are distraction related. Distraction refers to the diversion of attention away from the primary task of driving due to other visual, cognitive, auditory, or biomechanical activities.

In discussing hand-held v. hands-free devices, the report also noted: Whereas hands-free phones may have some performance benefits, evidence indicates that drivers who use hands-free phones use them more frequently and for longer durations. Limiting use to hands-free phone while driving will not solve the problem. We, therefore, recommend that drivers not use wireless communication devices, including text messaging systems, when driving, except in an emergency.

The report recommended that the NHTSA take the following actions:

  • A media campaign stressing the dangers associated with distracted driving.
  • A module for driver education curriculums that emphasizes the risks of engaging in distracting behavior.
  • Determine the magnitude and impact of driver-controlled, in-vehicle distractions.
  • Recommend to the states to enact legislation to prohibit holders of learner's permit and intermediate licenses from using interactive wireless communication devices while driving.

In releasing the report, the CAS points out that the NHTSA has not followed its own recommendations.

For more information on your state's restrictions on cell phone use while driving, see the Cell Phone Laws and Policy Center on Safety.BLR.com. Click the link for a state-by-state chart.

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