Safety Council Says Phoning and Driving Don't Mix

Associated Press
Monday, January 12, 2009

A national safety group is advocating a total ban on the use of cellphones while driving, saying the practice is clearly dangerous and leads to fatalities.

States should ban drivers from using both handheld and hands-free cellphones, and businesses should prohibit employees from using cellphones while driving on the job, the congressionally chartered National Safety Council says, taking those positions for the first time.

The group's president and chief executive, Janet Froetscher, likened talking on cellphones to drunken driving, saying cellphone use increases the risk of a crash fourfold.

"When our friends have been drinking, we take the car keys away. It's time to take the cellphone away," Froetscher said.

No state currently bans all cellphone use while driving. The District of Columbia and six states -- California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Utah and Washington -- ban the use of handheld cell phones behind the wheel, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Also, 17 states and the District restrict or ban cellphone use by novice drivers.

"Public awareness and the laws haven't caught up with what the scientists are telling us," Froetscher said. "There is no dispute that driving while talking on your cellphone, or texting while driving, is dangerous."

Hands-free cellphones are just as risky as handheld phones, she added.

"It's not just what you're doing with your hands -- it's that your head is in the conversation and so your eyes are not on the road," Froetscher said.

John Walls, vice president of CTIA-The Wireless Association, a cellphone trade group, objected to a complete ban. He said there are many instances where the ability to make a phone call while driving helps protect safety.

"We think that you can sensibly and safely use a cellphone to make a brief call," Walls said.

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