Fuel Smarts

State Leaders Say Cell Phone Legislation Premature

June 25, 2001

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Amidst a growing number of federal and state proposals to ban hand-held cellular telephones, the National Association of Governors' Highway Safety Representatives is urging lawmakers to slow down.

The group issued a statement saying while such legislation is well intended, it is misguided and will not achieve its desired safety goals.
"Research on the benefits of talking with a hands-free phone compared to a hand-held one while driving is simply not conclusive," said Chairman John Moffat. "There is still a cognitive distraction with a hands-free phone, so it is unclear that is the solution.
"Further, it is impossible to even calculate the scope of the problem because data on cell phone involvement in motor vehicle crashes is collected only in a small number of states."
NAGHSR further believes the majority of the proposed legislation will not be effective and will be virtually impossible to enforce. Moffat cited the provision in most of the legislation that exempts emergency calls on hand-held phones. "How do you define an emergency? If drivers are stopped using a cell phone, will they be truthful about an emergency? Will people be hesitant to report a true emergency for fear of getting a ticket?" Nearly 140,000 emergency service calls are placed from cell phones each day. Moffat wonders, "Will these benefits be lost?"
NAGHSR would like to see the focus of federal and state policy shift to distracted driving in general. The group says that talking with other passengers, changing the radio station, eating and distractions outside the vehicle pose just as significant if not larger dangers than cell phones. A study released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety last month found that cell phones are far less likely to distract the driver than more traditional distractions, the group reports.
The group wants Congress to appropriate additional funding so the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration can conduct more research on the issue, and believes education, rather than legislation, should be used to address the dangers of distracted driving.
NAGHSR is a nonprofit association representing the highway safety offices of states, territories, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Indian Nation. Its members are appointed by their Governors to administer federal and state highway safety funds and implement state highway safety plans.

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