Drivers’ Use Of Cell Phones In An Age Of Entitlement

A National Transportation Safety Board hearing early this month was to examine how an operator’s cell phone usage contributed to a September 2008 passenger

Don Marsh, Editor

A National Transportation Safety Board hearing early this month was to examine how an operator’s cell phone usage contributed to a September 2008 passenger and freight train collision in Chatsworth, Calif., that claimed 25 lives. NTSB findings almost assuredly will add to a mound of evidence supporting zero tolerance of mobile voice or text device use by those operating most motorized vehicles in gear.

Some of that evidence surfaced earlier this year as the National Safety Council (NSC), armed with fatality and crash statistics from a Harvard University study, urged businesses and state government leaders to ban motor vehicle drivers’ use of hand-held and hands-free cell phones for voice or text transmission.

Studies show driving while talking on a cell phone is extremely dangerous and puts drivers at a four times greater risk of a crash, said Council President Janet Froetscher. When friends have been drinking, we take the car keys away. It’s time to take the cell phone away. Cell phone exchanges may be less distracting than other activities drivers engage in, she added, but the use of mobile voice and texting devices is much more pervasive, making it more dangerous overall.

A Harvard University School of Public Health/Center of Risk Analysis study estimates that cell phone use while driving contributes to 6 percent of vehicle crashes, equating annually to 636,000 accidents, 330,000 injuries, 12,000 serious injuries and 2,600 deaths, plus estimated damages of $43 billion. NSC also cited a) University of Utah researchers’ contention that hands-free devices do not make safe cell phone calls while driving; and, b) another study demonstrating that talking to passengers, versus into a cell phone, actually makes adult drivers safer, because passengers help alert drivers to potential risks.

When you’re on a call, even if both hands are on the wheel, your head is in the call, and not on driving, said Froetscher. Unlike the passenger next to you, the person on the other end of the call is oblivious to your driving conditions. The passenger provides another pair of eyes on the road.

To spur common sense action, she sent governors and state legislative leaders letters promoting cell phone usage bans for drivers. She acknowledges that achieving and enforcing bans in all states will be a challenge, yet likened the matter to similar vehicular safety issues in the past, including laws mandating seatbelt usage. In a three-fold approach, the Council will advocate legislation; educate the public and businesses about the risk of cell phone use while driving; and, add distracted-driver content to its defensive driving training.

Many businesses have acknowledged the injuries and costs associated with vehicular cell phone use, NSC notes, and adopted policies barring employees from such activity. Among Council member businesses surveyed, 45 percent cited company policies prohibiting on-road cell phone use. Of those, 85 percent said the policies make no difference in business productivity. A fact sheet, data resources, and other information concerning cell phone use while driving are available at

In concrete, cement and aggregate hauling, NSC’s efforts should help safety, fleet and equipment managers address what has become a contentious matter with drivers who are accustomed to placing and fielding calls en route. Bans on cell phone use by mixer drivers have even become the subject of disputes with organized labor, whose leaders rarely hesitate to comment on worker safety.

The NSC campaign helps shift debate on such bans from a question of driver’s entitlement to one of personal and professional responsibility. If federal and state lawmakers act appropriately on safe cell phone use, chatty truck drivers might one day find their wallets thinned by missing cash and CDLs.

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