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Bush Administration withheld data on danger of cell phone use while driving

This month, the Center for Auto Safety and Public Citizen published data they secured through the Freedom of Information Act, documenting the significant safety risk associated with cell phone use while driving.  The federal Transportation Department had gathered this information in 2005 and 2006, but did not disseminate it during the Bush Administration in order to maintain favor with the cell phone industry. Until 2009, the latter industry argued that cellphone use while driving was not a danger and should not be regulated.

A wealth of data suggests that driving while talking on a cell phone is statistically just as dangerous as driving while drunk.  The Department estimated that cellphone use by drivers caused 955 fatalities and 240,000 collisions in 2002.  A National Traffic Safety Administration observational study suggests that nearly 12 percent of drivers are engaged in  texting or talking on a cell phone at any given time, although fatality and accident estimates were based on an assumption that only six percent of motorists are "multi-tasking."  An earlier 2003 Harvard University study estimated that cellphone distractions cause 2600 deaths and 330,000 injury-accidents each year. 

Pointing to the steady rate of death and injuries in motor vehicle collisions over the past ten years, researchers note that billions of dollars expended for "air bags, antilock brakes, better steering, safer cars and roads" have all achieved no improvement in accident safety--primarily because of the increased danger associated with increased cellphone use and distraction.  Research directed specifically to the distraction associated with "multi-tasking" supports an inference that cellphone users are from 1.3 to 4 times more likely to cause a collision--an assessment that randomly surveyed drivers agreed with.  Unfortunately, the same random survey in which respondents confirmed their belief that cellphone users are a danger on the road also confirmed that the respondents don't believe that they, personally, represent a hazard while multitasking.

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