Safety group: Ban all cell phones while driving


Published: Monday, January 12, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 10:42 p.m.

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

States should ban drivers from using hand-held and hands-free cell phones, and businesses should prohibit employees from using cell phones 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 cell phones to drunken driving, saying cell phone 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 cell phone away," Froetscher said in interview.

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

Council officials acknowledged a total ban could take years.

"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 cell phone, or texting while driving, is dangerous."

Froetscher said the council examined more than 50 scientific studies before reaching its decision. One was a study by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis that estimates 6 percent of vehicle crashes, causing about 2,600 deaths and 12,000 serious injuries a year, are attributable to cell phone use. Hands-free cell phones are just as risky as hand-held 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 cell phone 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 cell phone to make a brief call," Walls said.

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