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Old 07-20-09, 10:45 PM   #1
Robert C
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US Agency Blocked Cellphone / Driving Safety Study

Most interesting is not that the study didn't happen, many requests for studies are reutinely rejected. What is notable is that the research that has already been done was not made public. The reason was given. "The former head of the highway safety agency said he was urged to withhold the research to avoid antagonizing members of Congress..."

It is interesting that this article further supports the point that hands free cell phones are no safer. It is the nature of the telephone conversation, not nature of the device. Or, "That letter said that hands-free headsets did not eliminate the serious accident risk. The reason: a cellphone conversation itself, not just holding the phone, takes drivers’ focus off the road..."

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/21/te...er=rss&emc=rss
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U.S. Withheld Data on Risks of Distracted Driving
By MATT RICHTEL

In 2003, researchers at a federal agency proposed a long-term study of 10,000 drivers to assess the safety risk posed by cellphone use behind the wheel.

They sought the study based on evidence that such multitasking was a serious and growing threat on America’s roadways.

But such an ambitious study never happened. And the researchers’ agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, decided not to make public hundreds of pages of research and warnings about the use of phones by drivers — in part, officials say, because of concerns about angering Congress.

On Tuesday, the full body of research is being made public for the first time by two consumer advocacy groups, which filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for the documents. The Center for Auto Safety and Public Citizen provided a copy to The New York Times, which is publishing the documents on its Web site.

In interviews, the officials who withheld the research offered their fullest explanation to date.

The former head of the highway safety agency said he was urged to withhold the research to avoid antagonizing members of Congress who had warned the agency to stick to its mission of gathering safety data but not to lobby states.

Critics say that rationale and the failure of the Transportation Department, which oversees the highway agency, to more vigorously pursue distracted driving has cost lives and allowed to blossom a culture of behind-the-wheel multitasking.

“We’re looking at a problem that could be as bad as drunk driving, and the government has covered it up,” said Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center for Auto Safety.

The group petitioned for the information after The Los Angeles Times wrote about the research last year. Mother Jones later published additional details.

The highway safety researchers estimated that cellphone use by drivers caused around 955 fatalities and 240,000 accidents over all in 2002.

The researchers also shelved a draft letter they had prepared for Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta to send, warning states that hands-free laws might not solve the problem.

That letter said that hands-free headsets did not eliminate the serious accident risk. The reason: a cellphone conversation itself, not just holding the phone, takes drivers’ focus off the road, studies showed.

The research mirrors other studies about the dangers of multitasking behind the wheel. Research shows that motorists talking on a phone are four times as likely to crash as other drivers, and are as likely to cause an accident as someone with a .08 blood alcohol content.

The three-person research team based the fatality and accident estimates on studies that quantified the risks of distracted driving, and an assumption that 6 percent of drivers were talking on the phone at a given time. That figure is roughly half what the Transportation Department assumes to be the case now.

More precise data does not exist because most police forces have not collected long-term data connecting cellphones to accidents. That is why the researchers called for the broader study with 10,000 or more drivers.

“We nevertheless have concluded that the use of cellphones while driving has contributed to an increasing number of crashes, injuries and fatalities,” according to a “talking points” memo the researchers compiled in July 2003.

It added: “We therefore recommend that the drivers not use wireless communication devices, including text messaging systems, when driving, except in an emergency.”

Dr. Jeffrey Runge, then the head of the highway safety agency, said he grudgingly decided not to publish the Mineta letter and policy recommendation because of larger political considerations.

At the time, Congress had warned the agency not to use its research to lobby states. Dr. Runge said transit officials told him he could jeopardize billions of dollars of its financing if Congress perceived the agency had crossed the line into lobbying.

The fate of the research was discussed during a high-level meeting at the transportation secretary’s office. The meeting included Dr. Runge, several staff members with the highway safety agency and John Flaherty, Mr. Mineta’s chief of staff.

Mr. Flaherty recalls that the group decided not to publish the research because the data was too inconclusive.

He recalled that Dr. Runge “indicated that the data was incomplete and there was going to be more research coming.”

He recalled summing up his position as, the agency “should make a decision as to whether they wanted to wait for more data.”

But Dr. Runge recalled feeling that the issue was dire and needed public attention. “I really wanted to send a letter to governors telling them not to give a pass to hands-free laws,” said Dr. Runge, whose staff spent months preparing a binder of materials for their presentation.

His broader goal, he said, was to educate people about the dangers of distracted driving. “Based on the research, there was a possibility of this becoming a really big problem,” he said.

But “my advisers upstairs said we should not poke a finger in the eye of the appropriations committee,” he recalled.

He said Mr. Flaherty asked him, “Do we have enough evidence right now to not create enemies among all the stakeholders?”

Those stakeholders, Dr. Runge said, were the House Appropriations Committee and groups that might influence it, notably voters who multitask while driving and, to a much smaller degree, the cellphone industry.

Mr. Mineta, who left as transportation secretary in 2006, said he was unaware of the meeting.

“I don’t think it ever got to my desk,” he said of the research. Mr. Ditlow, from the Center for Auto Safety, said the officials’ explanations for withholding the research raised concerns. He said the research did not constitute lobbying of states.

And he said it was consistent with the highway safety agency’s research in other areas, like seat belts.

Mr. Ditlow said that putting fears of the House panel ahead of public safety was an abdication of the agency’s responsibility.

“No public health and safety agency should allow its research to be suppressed for political reasons,” he said. Doing so “will cause deaths and injuries on the highways.”

State Senator Joe Simitian of California, who tried from 2001 to 2005 to pass a hands-free cellphone law over objections of the cellphone industry, said the unpublished research would have helped him convince his colleagues that cellphones cause serious — deadly — distraction.

“Years went by when lives could have been saved,” said Mr. Simitian, who in 2006 finally pushed through a hands-free law that took effect last year.

The highway safety agency, rather than commissioning a study with 10,000 drivers, handled one involving 100 cars. That study, done with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, placed cameras inside cars to monitor drivers for more than a year.

It found that drivers using a hand-held device were at 1.3 times greater risk of a crash or near crash, and at three times the risk when dialing compared with other drivers.

Not all the research went unpublished. The safety agency put on its Web site an annotated bibliography of more than 150 scientific articles that showed how a cellphone conversation while driving taxes the brain’s processing power, reducing reaction time. But the bibliography included only a list of the articles, not the one-page summaries of each one written by the researchers.

Chris Monk, who researched the bibliography for 18 months, said the exclusion of the summaries took the teeth out of the findings.

“It became almost laughable,” Mr. Monk said. “What they wound up finally publishing was a stripped-out summary.”

Mr. Monk and Mike Goodman, a division head at the safety agency who led the research project, theorize that the agency might have felt pressure from the cellphone industry. Mr. Goodman said the industry frequently checked in with him about the project and his progress. (He said the industry knew about the research because he had worked with it to gather some data).

But he could offer no proof of the industry’s influence. Mr. Flaherty said he was not contacted or influenced by the industry.

The agency’s current policy is that people should not use cellphones while driving. Rae Tyson, a spokesman for the agency, said it did not, and would not, publish the researchers’ fatality estimates because they were not definitive enough.

He said the other research was compiled as background material for the agency, not for the public.

“There is no report to publish,” he said.
There is a longer piece on distracted driving here http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/19/te...cted.html?_r=1 titled, "Drivers and Legislators Dismiss Cellphone Risks."
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Old 07-21-09, 07:24 AM   #2
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The telecommunications lobby is one of many calling the shots on Capitol Hill.
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Old 07-21-09, 07:36 AM   #3
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I believe that distracted driving including mobile phone and device use probably poses a greater risk to lawfully operating cyclists than does drunk driving due to the different times each group most heavily uses the roads, and drunk drivers are way overrepresented in such crashes. It will be good to see "more attention paid" to the distracted driving problem.
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Old 07-21-09, 07:39 AM   #4
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Why is a phone conversation any more dangerous than a conversation with a passenger?
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Old 07-21-09, 07:48 AM   #5
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Why is a phone conversation any more dangerous than a conversation with a passenger?
The explanation that I have heard is that drivers are more willing to suspend conversation at important times to focus on traffic when speaking with a passenger who is a witness to the context of their driving, and that passengers are similarly willing to refrain from distracting the driver at important times. On a cell phone, drivers attempt to maintain a higher level of attention to the conversation, either as an attempt at courtesy to the remote party or to prioritize the content of the communication.

I should say that I do a lousy job of driving and talking to passengers at the same time. I ignore the conversation more times than not, and my high-level navigation suffers when I attempt to process conversation, but I have been successful at not letting it affect my traffic law obedience and collision avoidance tasks.

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Old 07-21-09, 09:04 AM   #6
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Why is a phone conversation any more dangerous than a conversation with a passenger?

I know it isn't exactly hard science, but the Discovery channel TV show 'Mythbusters' did an episode on driving hazards. They tested the participating cast members driving skills at the California Highway Patrols training course, which simulates various traffic conditions, hazards, and obstacles.

The first test was driving while sober and no cellphone. The second test was done when the participants were legally drunk, just over .08. The third test was done when the drivers were sober, but talking via a cellphone to another cast member who was not in the vehicle.

They tested 3-4 different people. In each case they could not find a discernable difference between the drivers perfomance while they were drunk and while they were talking on a cellphone, but in both cases there was a noticeable drop in each drivers performance when compared to how they peformed in the first or "control" test. In some cases the drivers performed worse while they were talking on a cellphone than while they were drunk.

Also, the course wasn't changed between tests. So the test subjects should have actually been better at anticipating the various parts of the course, which would have meant they peformed better after each repetititon. That was not the case.

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Old 07-21-09, 11:27 AM   #7
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They should ban operation of all electronic devices while driving. Searching for a channel on the CD or or reprogtamming destination in GPS is as distracting as texting. Maybe all the controls except volume should be deactivated when the transmission is in drive.
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Old 07-21-09, 11:36 AM   #8
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I'm not surprised that the same administration that squelched scientific evidence on global warming and endangered species would do the same with another special interest group.

As safety advocates, we should do what we can to make sure the new adinistration pays attention to the dangers of cell phone driving. I'm not sure that the existing evidence supports an immediate ban of the practice, but more research is certainly warranted.
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Old 07-21-09, 11:45 AM   #9
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Blimey. Then they should ban driving with ones children in the car. Now that can be distracting.

Regarding hand held vs. hands free - I have seen poor/inattentive driving because the driver was holding the telephone e.g. holding a phone restricting the drivers ability to turn, look and see through the driver's side window whilst making a right turn; poor vehicle control and failure to signal through an intersection because the driver was operating the vehicle one-handed in a tight turn. Erratic road position as a result of periodically checking the vehicles direction whilst engaged in texting/dialling.

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Old 07-21-09, 11:50 AM   #10
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Blimey. Then they should ban driving with ones children in the car. Now that can be distracting.

Regarding hand held vs. hands free - I have seen poor/inattentive driving because the driver was holding the telephone e.g. holding a phone restricting the drivers ability to turn, look and see through the driver's side window whilst making a right turn; poor vehicle control and failure to signal through an intersection because the driver was operating the vehicle one-handed in a tight turn. Erratic road position as a result of periodically checking the vehicles direction whilst engaged in texting/dialling.

Ed
I don't think you comprehended the studies that have been published about driving while talking on the phone. The basic concept is that talking on the phone puts more demand on cognitive functioning than most other activities, including talking to passengers (regardless of passenger's age).

This has nothing to do with holding the phone, or with phone use blocking the driver's view. It's all about people having only a certain amount of cognitive ability to do multi-tasking, and both driving and talking on the phone occupy a lot of one's cognitive ability.
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Old 07-21-09, 12:45 PM   #11
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Thanks Roody,

Actually I do understand the study and have no argument with the results - a similar conclusion was made public in the UK a few years ago.

However just wanted to highlight that driving without both hands available for the task can make for poor vehicle operation in addition to any mental distraction. Whilst, I suspect, most people will wait until they are through the traffic lights before changing radio stations, fewer would put down the phone in the same situation...

Also there's a distraction in holding the thing "properly" to ones ear to hear the other party which might over ride important driving tasks like looking over your shoulder, but that is my speculation, not the basis of a study.

Too often (here in the USA), cars merging from a street to my right have failed to look properly whilst the driver had a telephone held to the left ear. It can't help...

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Old 07-21-09, 02:43 PM   #12
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March 2005 Archives
-- Source: The Oregonian

Dark water

Posted by lsiulagi March 28, 2005 10:12AM

Check out this amazing story about Melissa Borgaard who lost control of her SUV on the Morrison bridge and plunged to the bottom of the Willamette River.

According to Borgaard, she was on her hands-free cell phone talking to her sister about dinner plans when her SUV slid on the bridge's metal grating. Next thing she knew, she was surrounded by water.

Rich Tyler, the Portland firefighter and rescue swimmer who pulled her from the river said "she was very disoriented. She kept apologizing for driving off the bridge."
(From the archieves of Oregon Live)
When I first heard of this story, there was no note about "sliding" on the metal grating, although it is there. If cell phone users cannot even look after themselves, how can they look after other motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists? Also, a passenger would tell the driver that she was about to drive off the bridge.

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Old 07-21-09, 03:51 PM   #13
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I set up my cell phone to play MP3s into my car stereo while driving to work today. Well, while stopped anyway.

First red light: plug the adapter cable into the headphone jack of my cell phone.
Second red light: turn on the stereo and select Aux In.
Third red light: turn on cell phone and -- oops, green light!
Fourth red light: turn on cell phone and select media player, press PLAY

I arrived at work less than two songs later. I can't complain if my commute is short.

I just don't trust myself to monkey with stuff while my car is moving. To me, looking away from the road for a second seems like and eternity. Next time I'll set it up before I leave the daycare parking lot, or not bother. And I know all about talkative or screaming kids. But nothing is more important than keeping my attention on the road.

Tomorrow, I'll bike in.

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Old 07-21-09, 05:51 PM   #14
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Yet more reasons why I recently upgraded to the DiNotte 400R "you could put an eye out with that thing" taillight.

If I ever get hit from behind, I will own their *ss.
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Old 07-22-09, 12:45 AM   #15
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Why is a phone conversation any more dangerous than a conversation with a passenger?
Since when is conversation with a passenger NOT dangerous?

Pile a bunch of 16-20yr old guys into the same car, get them talking about girls and football, see what happens to the driver's attention span.
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Old 07-22-09, 04:13 AM   #16
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I find listening to music is a tiny bit distracting. Generally I have enough to monitor without any un-needed input!

Over the last week I've been watching more closely to see who gives trouble on the road. Cycling I hardly ever see anyone, but I've been running my motorbike into town. Every person pulling out or trying to merge into me was on a cellphone. I know that's just one slice of one person, but it's pretty impressive. They don't seem particularly apologetic, either. A surprising number of the tailgaters seem to be on phones, too.

What on earth are people talking about all the time!

I've come to favor a complete telephone ban for drivers.

I wonder whether the auto manufacturers are tooling up for the self-drive car. Backwards. First they're giving us all the entertainment and distraction toys. Later they'll make it safe to have those!
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Old 07-22-09, 11:27 AM   #17
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I've figured this out

It's not the telephones that are to blame, its power steering and automatic transmissions. You see, prior to these, driving a car was somewhat demanding, requiring two hands on the wheel for most manouvers and attention paid to the intricacies of gear shifts etc. Nowadays, you can drive willy-nilly all about town one handed, one footed with just about sufficient brain power left to concentrate on that telephone call. Until something tricky happens...
As a classic car owner, the difference in driving experience compared to a modern car is startling (and fun). No way could one use a telephone comfortably whilst moving (not that I would). It's also simply too loud - I don't even have a radio!

So all we need to do is make cars more basic, harder to drive and less cushy - problem fixed!
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Old 07-22-09, 11:35 AM   #18
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I've figured this out

It's not the telephones that are to blame, its power steering and automatic transmissions. You see, prior to these, driving a car was somewhat demanding, requiring two hands on the wheel for most manouvers and attention paid to the intricacies of gear shifts etc. Nowadays, you can drive willy-nilly all about town one handed, one footed with just about sufficient brain power left to concentrate on that telephone call. Until something tricky happens...
As a classic car owner, the difference in driving experience compared to a modern car is startling (and fun). No way could one use a telephone comfortably whilst moving (not that I would). It's also simply too loud - I don't even have a radio!

So all we need to do is make cars more basic, harder to drive and less cushy - problem fixed!
Bingo!

The auto makers have made the modern (even economy) car so comfortable, that drivers have lost connection to the road.

I agree 100%. I have found when I drive a modern rental SUV it is quite easy to speed without being aware of it... the comforts of the vehicle isolate me from the environment. When I drive my old standard transmission 4wd truck, (with no AC and the windows down) I am very aware of the conditions around me, and I tend to drive below the speed limit.
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Old 07-22-09, 04:56 PM   #19
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I pass at least 30 idiots texting on their stupid cellphones on the interstate every day.

I lay on the horn everytime for my own amusement.
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Old 07-22-09, 05:07 PM   #20
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I pass at least 30 idiots texting on their stupid cellphones on the interstate every day.

I lay on the horn everytime for my own amusement.
Hehehehe. Sounds rather like my window tapping exploits at the traffic lights.... Mostly pointless but still amusing, especially if they kick off
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Old 07-23-09, 08:27 AM   #21
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Another reason that the US needs complete public funding of political campaigns and the disempowerment of private wealth in the political system. It needs to become impossible to buy a piece of a poltician's ass to have them do your bidding.
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Old 07-23-09, 11:58 AM   #22
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I've figured this out

It's not the telephones that are to blame, its power steering and automatic transmissions. You see, prior to these, driving a car was somewhat demanding, requiring two hands on the wheel for most manouvers and attention paid to the intricacies of gear shifts etc. Nowadays, you can drive willy-nilly all about town one handed, one footed with just about sufficient brain power left to concentrate on that telephone call. Until something tricky happens...
As a classic car owner, the difference in driving experience compared to a modern car is startling (and fun). No way could one use a telephone comfortably whilst moving (not that I would). It's also simply too loud - I don't even have a radio!

So all we need to do is make cars more basic, harder to drive and less cushy - problem fixed
!
This is a very good point. Of course, I think we should keep the safety features of the newer cars, like air bags, anti-lock brakes and crumple zones. But removing some of the conveniences might make drivers more aware of the driving experience.

While we're at it, we can make the roads themselves more demanding of the driver's attention. Get rid of a lot of the signage, signals and striping, and drivers are forced to slow down a bit and pay more attention to their surroundings.
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Old 07-23-09, 12:56 PM   #23
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Another reason that the US needs complete public funding of political campaigns and the disempowerment of private wealth in the political system. It needs to become impossible to buy a piece of a poltician's ass to have them do your bidding.
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Old 07-23-09, 01:25 PM   #24
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The main root of bad driving is the automatic transmission. This allows drivers to have their heads up their ass, freeing up their hands for more important things, like cell phones and eating.
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Old 07-23-09, 01:49 PM   #25
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Nonsense. Shifting time is a very small percentage of total driving time and can be done with a cell phone pressed into ear against shoulder or a cheeseburger punched between finger and thumbs and shifting done w/palm.
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