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Dangerous Driving With Cell Phones

Study reveals that many cell phone users drive at a risk

More people than ever are driving under the influence of their cell phones, according to a survey released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The survey showed that, during the typical daylight moment in 2004, 5% of drivers on the road were holding cellular phones to their ears, compared to 4% in 2002, and 3% in 2000. These results are from the National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS), which provides the only probability-based observed data on driver cell phone use in the United States. The NOPUS is conducted annually by the National Center for Statistics and Analysis in the NHTSA.

The NOPUS's finding of 5% use of hand-held phones in 2004 translates into an estimated 800,000 vehicles on the road during the typical daylight moment in 2004 driven by someone holding a phone. It also means that approximately 8% of drivers were using wireless phones in some manner, whether they were holding the phone or using some hands-free device. All that talking is a potential safety issue, said NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson.

"While we don't have hard evidence that there's been an increase in the number of crashes, we know that talking on the phone can degrade driver performance," Tyson said.

The 2004 NOPUS also found the following:

  • Hand-held cell phone use increased among drivers between the ages of 16 and 24, from 5% in 2002 to 8% in 2004.

  • Hand-held cell phone use increased among female drivers, from 4% in 2002 to 6% in 2004.

  • Drivers are more likely to use their phones when they are driving alone. In 2004, 6% of drivers observed driving alone were holding cell phones, compared to 2% among drivers who had at least one passenger.

  • In the first nationwide observed estimate of driver headset use, the NOPUS found that 0.4% of drivers were speaking with headsets on in 2004.

Of all the 50 states, only New York, New Jersey and the District of Columbia prohibit talking on hand-held cell phones while driving, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Some communities, such as Brookline, Mass., Santa Fe, N.M., and Lebanon, Pa., require hands-free cell phones, but about a half-dozen states prohibit local governments from restricting cell phone use in motor vehicles.

Young drivers, between 16 and 24, increased their talking on cell phones by 60 percent between 2002 and 2004. The National Transportation Safety Board said it wants all 50 states to ban those with learner's permits from using cell phones or other wireless devices while driving. New Jersey and Maine are the only two that have passed such laws.