Too Extreme? Or About Time?

The National Safety Council proposes a blanket ban on cell phone use while driving

The National Safety Council has not only called on motorists to stop using cell phones and messaging devices while driving — it is urging businesses to enact policies prohibiting those practices, and asking governors and legislators in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to pass laws banning them.

In a January news release, NSC president and CEO Janet Froetscher observed, “Studies show that driving while talking on a cell phone is extremely dangerous and puts drivers at a four times greater risk of a crash. Driving drunk is also dangerous and against the law. When our friends have been drinking, we take the car keys away. It’s time to take the cell phone away.”

It would be a mistake to underestimate the NSC’s credibility or effectiveness. The council led the adoption of the “Click It or Ticket” seatbelt campaign from a one-state pilot project to a 50-state program. “We believe the same kind of culture and behavior change must — and can — be achieved to stop cell phone use while driving,” Froetscher says.

Another distraction

The NSC puts cell phone usage in the larger category of distracted driving. The council observes that driver inattention is a leading cause of traffic crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says driver inattention is responsible for about 80 percent of all collisions.

And cell phone use, hands-free or not, is a major source of distraction, the NSC argues. The council cites a study from the Harvard Center of Risk Analysis estimating that cell phone use while driving contributes to 6 percent of crashes, which equates to 636,000 crashes, 330,000 injuries, 12,000 serious injuries and 2,600 deaths each year.

The study also put the annual financial toll of cell phone-related crashes at $43 billion.

Talking on a cell phone may be less distracting than some other activities people engage in while driving, but the use of cell phones and texting devices is much more pervasive, making it more dangerous overall, Froetscher states.

The NSC also points to studies from the University of Utah showing that hands-free devices do not make it safe to make cell phone calls while driving safe. “Another study demonstrates that talking to passengers, as opposed to talking on a cell phone, actually makes adult drivers safer, because passengers help alert drivers to potential driving risks,” the news release says.

Froetscher adds, “When you’re on a call, even if both hands are on the wheel, your head is in the call, and not on your driving. Unlike the passenger sitting 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.”

Big use in business

The NSC acknowledges that a significant amount of vehicular cell phone use occurs on the job. “Many businesses have already acknowledged the injuries and costs associated with this behavior by adopting policies that ban cell phone use by employees on the roads,” the council states.

Among NSC member businesses that responded to a survey, 45 percent said they have company policies prohibiting on-road cell phone use. Of those, 85 percent said the policies make no difference in business productivity.

“Anyone with a busy job knows the temptation to multi-task and stay in touch with the office while driving,” Froetscher says. “Believe me, I’ve been there. I didn’t realize how much risk I was taking. Most people don’t. Employers understand how dangerous the behavior is and their potential liability. We are asking all businesses to join us by adopting policies banning calling and texting while driving on the job.”

Froetscher has sent letters to all governors and state legislative leaders encouraging them to adopt statewide bans. She acknowledged that achieving and enforcing bans in all states will be a challenge, but she said the NSC has successfully faced similar challenges in the past — including seatbelt enforcement.

‘There will be a day ...’

“It may be hard for some people to imagine how certain laws, such as those concerning drunk driving, teen driving, seatbelt use and booster seats, can be enforced by observation alone,” Froetscher said. “Smart people in law enforcement get together to address such issues. They develop creative and successful measures to identify violators, such as high-visibility enforcement strategies.”

The NSC will take a three-fold approach to leading change: advocating legislation; educating the public and businesses about the risk of cell phone use while driving, and supplementing distracted driving content in its training of 1.5 million people annually in defensive driving.

“The change we are looking for, to stop cell phone use while driving, won’t happen overnight,” Froetscher says. “There will be a day, however, when we look back and wonder how we could have been so reckless with cell phones and texting devices.

For a fact sheet, data resources and other information concerning cell phone use while driving, visit the NSC website at


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