Cell Phone Use While Driving Increases Crash Risk
Feb. 24, 2000 (Atlanta) -- In response to growing evidence that motorists'
use of cell phones increases crash risk, two municipalities have passed
ordinances limiting their use. As similar legislation is proposed nationwide,
the cell phone industry has launched a public education campaign.
In September, Brooklyn, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, passed the first
ordinance banning cell phone use while driving. Since then, the Philadelphia
suburb Hilltown, Pa., enacted a similar ban on the use of hand-held cell
phones. Restrictive legislation is now pending in eight states, although
earlier efforts have failed.
"At least 15 states have proposed bills restricting cell phone use by
motorists, only to have the measures die in committee," says Matt Sundeen,
an analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures. "Part of the
reason is the political clout of 76 million cell phone users. Also, just about
every politician owns and uses a cell phone." But the link between cell
phones and crash risk continues to grow, and 300 municipalities are considering
In 1997, The New England Journal of Medicine reported that motorists
who use cell phones are four times more likely to crash, and equated their use
with drunk driving. In a three-year study of Oklahoma crash data, researchers
linked cell phone use with a ninefold increase in fatalities. According to the
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Oklahoma is the only
state to have such data.
In a new report on wireless communications, the NHTSA encouraged state and
local officials to begin tracking cell phone use in related traffic warnings,
citations, and crash investigations. Recognizing the safety benefits of cell
phones and describing a nationwide ban as unrealistic, the report also called
for public education about the hazards of driver distraction. In response, the
cell phone industry has launched a public awareness campaign.
"Every day, there are 100,000 calls to 911 from cell phones," says
Lisa Ihde, a spokesperson for the Cellular Telecommunications Industry
Association (CTIA). "And these calls are saving lives by decreasing
emergency response times. But cell phones should be used responsibly, so we're
partnering with local, state, and federal agencies to raise public awareness
with our 'Ten Tips' campaign."
Because the NHTSA differentiates between the effects of "simple" and
"cognitively demanding" cell phone conversation, the CTIA's tips
discourage stressful or emotional conversation and encourage the use of
hands-free features. But it's probably too little and too late for a mother in
"I watched my daughter die," says Patricia Pena, the mother of
two-year-old Morgan Lee, who was killed in her car seat when the car in which
she was riding was struck by a motorist using a cell phone. "And I'd like
to prevent others from going through it," she says. "People need to
know that manufacturers warn against use of cell phones when cars are in
motion." Pena tells WebMD that she and her husband both continue to use