Data on Distracted Driving Was Suppressed by NHTSA

Crash2 In 2003, researchers at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration were worried that the proliferation of cell phones was creating a severe threat on U.S. roadways and proposed a long-term study of 10,000 drivers to determine if cell phone use posed a public safety risk.

The study never happened, though, and hundreds of pages of research and data warning of the danger posed by drivers multitasking behind the wheel were kept off the public record. Officials now say it was partly because the U.S. Congress had warned the agency not to lobby states about hands-free laws.

Consumer advocacy groups like the Center for Auto Safety filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, and now the full body of research has been made available.

The findings are nothing new today. The research reiterates that cell phone use while driving poses a safety threat: A driver on the phone is four times more likely to get into an accident, the same as a driver with a .08 blood-alcohol level. It also noted that hands-free headsets do nothing to help drivers focus on the road, as studies showed that drivers using the sets were just as distracted and at risk for an accident as those who held the phone.

At the time of the study, the Transportation Department estimated that 6% of drivers were on the phone at any given time, but they now think that number has doubled. This is not reassuring, because in 2002, when there were far fewer cell phones around, researchers estimated 240,000 accidents caused by cell phones, including 955 fatalities.

For their part, the transportation officials at the time said the data was “incomplete” and “inconclusive,” and that more research was needed. The question for current Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is what to do about the growing number of distracted drivers. Of course, most regulation has come at the state and city level, with no intervention from the federal government.

U.S. Withheld Data on Risks of Distracted Driving (The New York Times)

By Stephen Markley | July 21, 2009 | Comments (4)

Comments 

Paul

Why would anyone want to be on a cell phone 24/7 anyway? Seems to me its a power thing...keeping track of "loved ones" while away,so they cant do things behind one's back.

Dan

Ummmmm... Paul, have a particular instance in mind, perhaps?


I'm curious is "the data was “incomplete” and “inconclusive,” and that more research was needed" similar to climate change's data being "incomplete" and "inconclusive" and "more research is needed"? Because if that's the case we may have a pattern forming...

Regardless I don't really understand the motivation behind suppressing this. Is there a strong headset lobby or something?

cody

please, are people soooo stupid today that they need a national study to tell them that texting while driving is....dangerous? the fact that people even care about this is ridiculous.

this morning, i was all kinds of people expressing shock in emails to cnn and calling it a bush admin conspiracy. what a bunch of bologna.

our country truly has lost any common sense it might have had....and it's damn sad!

If you are looking for topics for your safety themed science fair projects then consider all of the safety issues that modern humans face because of electronic devices.

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