The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reportedly recommended as far back as 2002 that motorists not talk on cell phones while driving—unless in an emergency situation. The federal agency also recommended that drivers not use hands-held, as well as hands-free phones and even went so far as to note that establishing laws banning only handheld cell phones might not be enough to minimize the risks of using a phone while operating a motor vehicle.
The reason for this recommendation was that the NHTSA had in its possession hundreds of pages of research documenting the dangers associated with cell phone use while driving. Yet the recommendation and the research were never made available to the public. One reason for this was concern that Congress and other public officials would see the proposal as a form of lobbying.
The information finally became public after Public Citizen and the Center for Auto Safety, two public interest groups, managed to access the information via the Freedom of Information Act.
The question now being asked is how many lives could have been saved if people knew then what they know now about the risks involved with cell phone use while driving? When the NHTSA first made its proposal several years ago, there were more than 170 million people using cell phones in the country—now, there are more than 270 million cell phone subscribers. And now, more than ever, cell phone use while driving has become a bad driving habit that millions of motorist are finding hard to break.
Yet as more motor vehicle accidents are reported involving motorists that caused auto crashes because they were talking on a phone or text messaging, the consequences of cell phone use while driving can no longer be ignored. Even train operators have been found negligent for engaging in these bad habits and causing catastrophic train collisions.
While Maryland doesn’t have a ban on any kind of cell phone use for adult drivers—only for minor drivers—all drivers will be prohibited from text messaging beginning October 2009. The Maryland Highway Safety Foundation says it had been pushing for a hand-held cell phone ban, but with the latest revelations about the NHTSA’s suppressed findings, they may recommend a total ban on the use of all cell phones while driving.
U.S. Withheld Data on Driving Distractions, WBOC 16, July 22, 2009
Suppressed federal study having ripple effect in Md., Baltimore Sun, July 2009
The Truth About Cars and Cellphones, NY TImes, July 22, 2009
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If you were involved in a Maryland car crash because another motorist was talking on a cell phone or text messaging or engaged in another form of distracted driving, you may have grounds for filing a personal injury lawsuit.