Driver or operator inattention is a leading cause of accidents. The use of cell phone technology for voice communication and text messaging has become so ubiquitous that one of the first questions investigators seek to answer in many accident investigations these days is whether drivers were distracted by using one of these devices when accidents occurred. Cell phone safety while operating a motorized vehicle is a primary health concern that is being addressed in state legislatures, regulatory agencies and the United States Congress.
AITP Position on Cell Phone Safety
Based on the recommendation of the Legislative & Regulatory Affairs Committee, the Association Board of Directors (ABoD) adopted the following Association position statement on cell phone safety on October 28, 2009:
AITP supports cell phone safety legislation at the state level that:
Bans hand-held cell phone use for all drivers of automobiles and light trucks, and
Bans all cell phone use for all drivers of heavy trucks, buses and rail vehicles, and
Bans all cell phone use for novice drivers and all drivers under the age of 18, regardless of vehicle, and
Bans texting, as well as reading or sending email, while operating a motorized vehicle for all drivers, regardless of age or type of vehicle.
AITP calls upon employers to provide cell phone safety training whenever a cellular device--i.e., cell phone, BlackBerry, iPhone, etc.--is made available to employees for business use.
Cell Phone Use & Safety Risks
There are now over 250 million cellular phone subscribers in the United States, a large number of who use their phones while driving on a daily basis for telephone calls and/or text messaging ("texting"). This behavior has fueled increasing concern about cell phone safety, resulting in legislative and regulatory measures to stop or curtail phone usage. The debate over cell phone usage behind the wheel has safety advocates on one side insisting that cell phone use while operating a motor vehicle should be banned completely. On the other hand, cellular industry trade groups such as CITA advocate education over legislation in reducing road accidents. AITP's position reflects a need for both legislation and education.
Safety risks associated with making and receiving cellular telephone calls while driving have been well documented over the last five years. Driver inattention within three seconds before an event is a leading cause of traffic crashes, responsible for about 80 percent of all collisions and 65 percent of near-crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Cell phone use is a primary cause of driver inattention.
Texting, or Short Messaging Service (SMS), has soared in the United States over the last three years. More than one trillion text messages were transmitted in the United States during 2008. That's roughly 3x the 362.6 billion text messages reported for 2007, which was more than double the number reported in 2006. Currently, more than 3.5 billion messages are being transmitted every day in the United States, or over 2.4 million text messages per minute. While texting makes it easy to stay connected to friends and family, texting while driving is incompatible with safe driving, putting drivers, passengers and bystanders at risk.
In January 2009, the National Safety Council (NSC) called on motorists to stop using cell phones and messaging devices while driving, urged businesses to enact policies prohibiting it, and called for laws to ban the behavior. This follows action by the American Medical Association House of Delegates in November 2008 to advocate for state legislation prohibiting use of hand-held devices to send text messages while driving. It also encouraged physicians to educate patients about the health risks of text messaging while driving.
Legislative & Regulatory Environment
Currently, eighteen states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands ban texting while driving. Nine states ban the practice for new drivers. Six states and the District of Columbia ban talking on hand-held cell phones while driving, but no state has banned all forms of cell phone use while driving. No state completely bans all types of cell phone use (hand-held and hands-free) for all drivers, but twenty-one states and the District of Columbia ban all cell use by novice drivers.
The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) urges that states ban all non-emergency cell phone use/text messaging for new drivers including teen drivers, that the Federal government fund a media campaign to alert the public to the dangers of distracted driving comparable to that undertaken for drunk driving, and that employers implement policies banning cell phone/texting use while driving by all employees during working hours.
At the Federal level, US Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), and Kay Hagan (D-NC) introduced the Avoiding Life-Endangering and Reckless Texting by Drivers Act (S.1536 or "ALERT Drivers" Act) on July 29, 2009. The act would require states to ban texting or emailing while operating a moving vehicle or lose 25 percent of their annual Federal highway funding, comparable to the way Congress required states to adopt a national drunken driving ban. S.1536 targets activity by anyone operating a personal car, truck, bus and most other mass transit systems, including light rail. It would not apply to individuals using mobile devices while their vehicle is stopped, nor would it apply to passengers.
US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said on August 4, 2009 that he would support banning motorists from texting behind the wheel, but acknowledged further study was needed to find effective ways to enforce such a ban. To this end, he hosted a two-day summit of senior transportation officials, lawmakers, safety advocates and law-enforcement officials in September 2009 that focused on the hazards posed by cell phone use, text messaging and other activities that distract drivers.
AITP in Action
AITP members should contact their state legislators and make them aware of AITP's position on cell phone safety legislation. They should also promote cell phone safety education in the workplace with their employers.
AITP in Action is a series of educational, advocacy and community service programs sponsored by the Legislative & Regulatory Affairs Committee. For more information, contact AITP in Action.