National Safety Month

National Safety Council continues its call for ban on cell phone use while driving

In January, the National Safety Council became the first national organization to issue a call for motorists to stop all forms of cell phone use while driving. In addition, the council has dedicated the fourth week of National Safety Month in June to the issue of distracted driving.

The council cites studies showing that driving while talking on a cell phone puts drivers at a four-times greater risk of a crash. According to estimates from the Harvard Center of Risk Analysis in Boston, 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 put the annual cost of cell phone-related crashes at $43 billion. The council also is calling for employers to adopt policies prohibiting the behavior. Many workers consider using their cell phones behind the wheel a necessary part of their jobs. However, recognizing the potential injuries and costs associated with this behavior – including liability when an employee injures someone else while driving distracted on the job – more organizations are adopting policies that ban cell phone use by employees on the road. Among council member businesses that responded to a council survey, 45 percent said they had policies prohibiting cell phone use while driving. Of those, 85 percent said the policies make no difference in productivity.

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The council acknowledges that cell phone use may be less distracting than some other activities people engage in while driving, such as retrieving something from the back seat or reading a newspaper, but believes cell phone use is more pervasive, making it more dangerous overall. There are more than 270 million wireless subscribers in the United States. According to a national survey conducted in 2008 by Nationwide Insurance, 81 percent of respondents who owned a cell phone admitted to using the phone while driving.

In the same study, 1 out of every 5 cell phone users said they send text messages while driving. In response, more states and municipalities are reviewing bills that aim to ban text messaging while driving.

On March 30, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D) signed into law House Bill 1876. The law, effective July 1, prohibits drivers from using wireless communication devices to send text messages, except in cases of emergency.

In Maryland, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) on May 7 signed into law The Delegate John Arnick Electronic Communications Traffic Safety Act (H.B. 72), banning TWD.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Associ­ation, TWD is banned in the District of Columbia and in 10 states: Alaska, Arkansas, California, Con­necticut, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, Utah, Virginia and Washington. Washington-based GHSA also reports 11 states have banned TWD for novice or teenage drivers. The Denver-based National Conference of State Legis­latures reports that since January, legislators in 18 states have proposed bills to prohibit TWD. The National Safety Council is urging governors and legislators in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to pass laws banning all cell phone use while driving.

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

Associate Editor Deidre Bello contributed to this article.

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