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Using Mobile While Driving Is Risk

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Mobile phone use in motor vehicles has increased at a remarkable rate over the past 15 years. Yet it is undeniable that utilizing a cell phone while driving can affect driver performance as it relates to the overall safe operation of a vehicle. There are a number of things to consider in deciding whether the trade off in convenience is worth the potential risks associated with the distraction created by a cell phone.

Given the fact that the individual driver (and/or business owner) ultimately pays for the resulting consequences associated with an auto or truck accident (financial, emotional and physical lose); it is prudent to seek out relevant and reliable information in making a decision. In doing so, consider the source, as well as the possible motivation behind the information provider.

Source: US Legislation

In the United States, there are currently no federal laws prohibiting driving while using a cell phone. In an earnest attempt to find a solution, some states (New Jersey, New York, the District of Columbia, Connecticut and pending in California) have passed laws barring hand-held cell phone use while driving. Typical fines range from $50 to $100 for drivers caught using a hand-held device. While these lawmakers have the public's best interest at heart by levying fines, not all entities weighing in on this subject are likely to have the same incentive.

Source: Manufacturer Research

As the result of an independent study (found on their web site in the form of a press release), Plantronics, a manufacturer of headsets states, "71% of drivers steer more accurately when using a headset with a mobile phone". They point out that the study was to discover if a person using a mobile phone improves driving if he or she uses a headset. Stephen Wilcox, Ph.D., Principal of Design Science (independent research firm) states, "Driving with both hands on the wheel is the safest option for motorists who use mobile phones, and headsets are tools to enable that improvement." Considering the source, is this statement characteristic of scientific research? Is it objective and free of marketing bias? Could it confuse individuals into thinking that cell phones are safe as long as you are hands-free? Additionally, found toward the end of the press release, is a comment by a senior director of product marketing. Beth Johnson states, "It's important to keep in mind that our study is not intended to address the issue of whether or not it is safe to talk on a mobile phone while driving, but rather what type of technology is safest for drivers to use while talking on their mobile phones". They also state their intent is to "educate drivers on options for using mobile phones comfortably and responsibly while driving". Given that the goal is safety education, is this research responsibly comprehensive to consider it a relevant and reliable source?

Surely, as you go about your own assessment the idea of freeing up both hands to control the steering wheel is a logical consideration. If a driver focuses exclusively on driving the vehicle, then two hands on the wheel is better than one. Unfortunately, this seemingly sensible approach can lead to a false sense of driver security (possibly increasing crash risk) as noted in various reports (www.vcu.edu/cppweb/tstc/reports/reports.html) by the Crash Investigation Team at Virginia Commonwealth University Center for Public Safety. Their findings illustrated that the cognitive resources required to carry on a phone conversation are equivalent to those necessary to drive. This is an important concern given VCU's history of transportation safety research, as well as other studies concluding this behavior (carrying on a phone conversation while driving), reduces both driver reaction time and driver attentiveness, especially as they relate to braking.

Unlike a computer, humans have a limited capacity to process simultaneous information. If the software on your computer seems to slow down, you might consider increasing the memory or processor speed to compensate for delays resulting from an overload in computing capacity. We as humans have a similar limitation when it comes to processing too much information, but unlike computers, our resources are somewhat fixed. Given the inherent delays in our own thought response time when faced with increased load factors, is it practical or safe to hold a cell phone conversation while driving a motor vehicle?

Source: Government Transportation Safety Research

The US government employs many of the top transportation safety experts and funds a major portion of the world's accident prevention research. Given the effects traffic accidents and related congestion have on US productivity, accident reduction is a top priority. Considering that distracted driving accounted for at least 6.4 percent of crash fatalities in 2004 (U.S. Department of Transportation), many researchers are looking closely at the distinguishing distraction caused by cell phone use in vehicles. Furthermore, of the many potential distractions in a vehicle, cell phones are considered equally or more dangerous than the other known distractions such as eating, reading a map or grooming while operating a motor vehicle. In light of the ongoing research for, and by, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (www.nhtsa.gov/) we should at least consider their policy on using cell phones while driving that states "The primary responsibility of the driver is to operate a motor vehicle safely. The task of driving requires full attention and focus. Cell phone use can distract drivers from this task, risking harm to themselves and others. Therefore, the safest course of action is to refrain from using a cell phone while driving."

Source: Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA)

According to the CTIA, there are currently more than 218 million subscribed cell phone users as of August 2006 (compared to some 4.3 million in 1990). Based on the extraordinary growth of cellular phone industry and the CTIA's advisory role, it may be of value to think about their point of view on this topic. In doing so, you might consider a document found on the CTIA's web site, entitled "SafeDrivingTalkingPoints2"

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