A snapshot of cell phone users in U.S.

Published: Sunday, May 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 30, 2005 at 11:12 p.m.
At any given moment during daylight hours in 2004, about 1.2 million drivers nationwide, or 8 percent of all motorists, were using cell phones (hand-held and hands-free), compared with 6 percent in 2002 and 4 percent in 2000. Roughly 800,000 of all drivers in 2004 were chatting on a hand-held cell phone as opposed to using a hands-free method.
These results are from the 2004 National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS) released in March. The survey, conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, observed usage by drivers of passenger vehicles - those with no commercial or government markings - stopped at a stoplight or stop sign at 1,200 randomly selected sites around the country.
Hand-held cell phone use increased from 5 percent in 2002 to 8 percent in 2004 among 16- to 24-year-olds; from 4 percent to 5 percent in drivers ages 25-69; and remained steady at 1 percent for drivers 70 and older.
In all age groups in 2004, more females - up from 4 percent to 6 percent - than males - who remained steady at 4 percent - used a hand-held cell phone while driving, according to the survey.
The most likely users were drivers traveling alone - 6 percent compared with 2 percent of those who had at least one passenger. But drivers who had at least one child passenger (7 years old or younger) were as likely to use a hand-held cell phone as were drivers with no children on board - both were at 5 percent. For the first time, the most recent national survey included an observed estimate of driver headset use, which was 0.4 percent in 2004. Of that percentage, more males than females - 0.5 percent versus 0.2 percent - were observed using a headset.
The NHTSA takes the position that using either a hand-held or a hands-free cell phone can distract drivers from the task of operating a motor vehicle safely. "We definitely say that hands-free is not risk-free," said NHTSA spokeswoman Liz Neblett.
The agency advises that as a general rule, drivers should try to find a safe place off the road before using a cell phone, and in emergency situations to consider the urgency of the situation and necessity of using a cell phone while driving.

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