Nationwide Cell Phone Ban for Drivers Urged

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By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter
Monday, January 12, 2009; 12:00 AM

SUNDAY, Jan. 11 (HealthDay News) -- A leading consumer safety organization is calling for a nationwide ban on drivers using all cell phones and other messaging devices.

While there are a few state and local laws banning drivers from using hand-held cell phones, the National Safety Council (NSC) believes it's time to make it unanimous.

The NSC plans to lobby in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., for laws that ban both hand-held and hands-free cell phone use as well as texting while driving. The council also plans to work with the U.S. government to develop incentive programs and sanctions that will force states to enact such laws.

"The problem is of an enormous order of magnitude, and it's only getting worse," said council president and chief executive officer Janet Froetscher. "We are at the point where the science is really clear that driving while you are on your cell phone is highly risky."

Many people know that using a cell phone while driving is dangerous, but they don't know how dangerous, Froetscher added. "And it's legal. It's legal to do something on the road that endangers your life and endangers the life of other folks around you," she said.

Froetscher is sending letters to all governors and state legislative leaders, urging them to adopt statewide bans. Achieving and enforcing bans in all states is a challenge, but the NSC has successfully overcome challenges in the past, such as seat belt enforcement, child safety seats and teenage driving laws, she said.

"We have found ways to enforce those laws, and this is no different," Froetscher concluded.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association Web site, only five states -- California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Washington -- plus the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands have laws that prohibit driving while talking on hand-held cell phones.

But even those states that require hands-free devices for cell phones while driving or ban texting while driving don't enforce their laws consistently, Froetscher noted.

According to Froetscher, the data clearly shows that cell phones and other devices cause many accidents because drivers pay more attention to their conversation or text message than where they are on the road.

She cited a study from the Harvard Center of Risk Analysis that found cell phone use while driving accounts for about 6 percent of crashes each year nationwide. That's 636,000 crashes, 330,000 injuries, 12,000 serious injuries and 2,600 deaths, she said.

Another Harvard study put the cost of cell phone-related crashes at about $43 billion a year.

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