U.S. safety group calls for mobile phone driving ban

Mon Jan 12, 2009 9:23am EST
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By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The National Safety Council, which campaigned to get U.S. states to enforce seatbelt laws, is taking on mobile phones, saying on Sunday it was starting a campaign to ban all use of mobile phones while driving.

Even so-called hands-free devices should be banned, because studies show they do not make it any safer to talk on the telephone while driving, the group said.

"It's time to take the cell phone away," said Janet Froetscher, president and chief executive officer of the non-profit group.

"Studies show that driving while talking on a mobile phone is extremely dangerous and puts drivers at a four times greater risk of a crash," Froetscher said in a telephone interview.

Many states and Washington, D.C. have laws requiring the use of a hands-free device while driving and using a cellphone. But several recent studies have shown drivers are far more distracted when speaking on a mobile phone, even with a speaker or headset, than talking to a live passenger.

Last month Dave Strayer of the University of Utah and colleagues demonstrated that drivers using a hands-free device drifted out of their lanes and missed exits more frequently than drivers talking to a passenger.

Strayer's team has also shown that drivers using mobile telephones are as impaired as drivers who are legally drunk.

A study from the Harvard Center of Risk Analysis estimates that cellphone use while driving contributes to 6 percent of crashes. Froetscher's group says that translates to 636,000 crashes, 330,000 injuries and 2,600 deaths in the United States each year.   Continued...