Monday, January 12, 2009

National Safety Council Urges Cellphone Ban for Drivers

NYTimes.com: "In half a dozen states and many cities and counties, it is illegal to use a hand-held cellphone while driving — but perfectly all right to talk on a hands-free device.
The theory is that it’s distracting to hold a phone and drive with just one hand. But a large body of research now shows that a hands-free phone poses no less danger than a hand-held one — that the problem is not your hands but your brain.
“It’s not that your hands aren’t on the wheel,” said David Strayer, director of the Applied Cognition Laboratory at the University of Utah and a leading researcher on cellphone safety. “It’s that your mind is not on the road.”
Now Dr. Strayer’s research has gained a potent ally. On Monday, the National Safety Council, the nonprofit advocacy group that has pushed for seat belt laws and drunken driving awareness, called for an all-out ban on using cellphones while driving.
“There is a huge misperception with the public that it’s O.K. if they are using a hands-free phone,” said Janet Froetscher, the council’s president and chief executive. “It’s the same challenge we had with seat belts and drunk driving — we’ve got to get people thinking the same way about cellphones.”
Laboratory experiments using simulators, real-world road studies and accident statistics all tell the same story: drivers talking on a cellphone are four times as likely to have an accident as drivers who are not. That’s the same level of risk posed by a driver who is legally drunk.
Why cellphone use behind the wheel is so risky isn’t entirely clear, but studies suggest several factors. No matter what the device, phone conversations appear to take a significant toll on attention and visual processing skills."

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