U.S. Congress has some explaining to do about cell phone driving safety

July 26th, 2009

By Dean I Weitzman, Esq.


This is a public service announcement on British television, highlighting the dangers of driving while texting.   Caution: The images in this clip are very graphic and disturbing.                  Video Credit:

How many people have died needlessly on U.S. roads in the last six years because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was too afraid of Congress to do a formal, detailed study to look at how mobile phones and texting devices were affecting driving across our nation?

That’s the question I keep asking as I read the headlines in the last few days about a New York Times investigation which described how NHTSA researchers proposed such a study in 2002, to no avail. The study would have involved 10,000 drivers and would have taken a close look at the issue.

But, the idea was squashed by the NHTSA because the agency’s leaders didn’t want to upset the political apple cart. “The former head of the highway safety agency said he was urged to withhold the research to avoid antagonizing members of Congress who had warned the agency to stick to its mission of gathering safety data but not to lobby states,” the article said.

The NHTSA had dared to look at the issue internally and came to some conclusions that were not well-liked by cell phone company lobbyists – the NHTSA report said that all cell phone use should be banned except for emergency use, even if the driver was using a hands-free phone. For years, cell phone backers have been arguing that hands-free phones using headsets would keep drivers safer, but the NHTSA report said that their analysis showed that to be a common misconception.

In fact, in a draft cell phone policy in the report, the agency said that driving while using any phone – hand-held or hands-free – is still too distracting and shouldn’t be allowed by law across the nation.

It’s the ultimate in politics as usual, with industry lobbyists and industry lobbyist money winning out over what is best for Americans and our nation.

Think long and hard about this – a federal agency chose not to act on behalf of the citizens of the United States of America because it was worried about how that would anger members of Congress who get all-important campaign donations from cell phone company lobbyists.

And because of that insanity, the 266-page NHTSA report produced back in 2002 which called for more study on the issue has sat hidden on a shelf until recently being released under a federal Freedom of Information Act lawsuit won by two consumer groups, The Center for Auto Safety and Public Citizen.

Just a few weeks ago, we blogged about how a proposed Pennsylvania law would levy a $100 fine to drivers who are found to be texting while driving, if they were stopped for another moving violation or involved in an accident. That now seems way too lame a punishment, in light of the now-uncovered, seven-year-old NHTSA data.

It’s time for this nation to take stronger action to prevent traffic accidents, deaths and injuries due to cell phone use and texting by drivers on our roads.

Do the study now, and then take serious actions to address its conclusions.

Damn the Congress – full speed ahead.

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