Mobile mania

18 April 2008

The National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) has estimated that cell phones cause between 300,000 and 650,000 accidents each year in the United States. The numbers of fatalities related to these accidents are unacceptable. Current studies show that between 100 and 1,000 people are killed each year due to cell phone-related accidents.

This is more than deaths related to airbags and Firestone tires combined. The airbag and tire industries had to withstand large amounts of negative publicity. The cell phone industry has not received the amount of negative response from government, industry, or society.

In many states, statistics linking accidents to cell phones are unobtainable. These states do not require police officers to document whether a driver involved in an accident was using a cell phone. Most experts agree that the process of collecting reliable data is inconclusive. Countries that have banned hand-held phone use while driving have reported a significant decline in accidents related to hand-held phone devices. Japan and 13 other countries reported a 75% decline in accidents the first month following enforcement of such a ban.

The cellular telephone industry often demonstrates its commitment to promoting safety for its customers by providing product information packets and an occasional television advertisement. It is true this may protect the cell phone companies from some liability and litigation claims but, based on the accident safety data, this information is not sufficient in solving the root cause of the problem. The distractions caused by cell phones are linked to accidents, injuries and fatalities.

Bans brewing

Legislators, business owners, talkshow hosts and celebrities are listening as the cellular telephone industry and advocates to ban the cell phones glued to drivers' ears battle over these safety issues. What political road does this lead us down? Is the value of talking on a cell phone worth risking lives?

Business spokesmen estimate major productivity losses in time spent in vehicles if these laws are enacted on them. Millions of Americans are now enjoying this convenience at the risk of a large disaster. Although most people agree that talking on a cell phone while driving is a distraction, many believe the safety risk is an acceptable trade off.

Admittedly, the importance of a cell phone for emergency purposes should not be overlooked. Each day cell phone users are reporting accidents and emergencies that save lives. These services are important but emergency calls from a vehicle should be made while the vehicle is stopped in a safe location.

Many consumers may say that there is no difference between drinking coffee, tuning the radio or talking on the cell phone while driving. The fact remains that accidents related to driving and talking on cell phones are occurring at an alarming rate. Cell phone use in America exceeds 75 million phones without much safety education in place on this issue.

While talking on a cell phone does increase the risk of an accident, accidents related to cell phone use in vehicles could be eliminated, reduced, or prevented. It appears this will not change without new technology, laws or valuable data needed to convince consumers of the safety issues related to these products.

Several studies show no difference in accident rates of drivers using hands-free phone devices and traditional hand held cell phones. Several states have banned or are considering banning, the use of a cell phone while operating a motor vehicle. In some regions of the US, specifically Chicago, drivers can get a ticket for talking on a cell phone without a hands-free device. It is best practice to have a company safety policy restricting cell phone use while driving company vehicles.

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