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NTSB: Young drivers should stay off the phone when on the road

Discussion /

June 3, 2003 Posted: 10:51 PM EDT (0251 GMT)
NTSB: Young drivers should stay off the phone when on the road

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued a new warning about driving a car and talking on a cellular phone at the same time. It comes amid fears about the combination of activities that some say can be lethal.

CNN's Kathleen Koch reported that listening to music, eating, and chatting with friends are all potentially deadly distractions for teenage drivers. The age group composes less than seven percent of the driving population of the U.S., but it is blamed for more than 14 percent of all fatal accidents. Consequently, the NTSB has recommended that states issue laws preventing drivers with learning permits from using cell phones.

NTSB officials say teens do not need another distraction while driving. "Young, inexperienced drivers are particularly vulnerable to accidents, are easily distracted, and are known to engage in risky behavior," said Michelle McMurtry of the NTSB.

Regarding more experienced drivers, the NTSB says it is still unclear whether cell phones are worse than anything else that distracts drivers from the act of driving. Joe Osterman, director of the NTSB Office of Highway Safety, said that although cell phones are a known distraction to drivers, "We cannot rank that or the other distractions as to which is most severe."

California is debating whether to ban the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. A six-month highway patrol study there showed that the phones were linked to 11 percent of collisions caused by driver inattention.

New York and 22 municipalities in the U.S. already have laws banning hand-held cell phone use while driving. But the cellular phone industry argues that such bans will not solve the problem. "Studies have shown that accidents related to wireless phone use are way down the list, below drinking coffee, below worrying about the kids, below the radio, below the CD, and these sort of things," said Tom Wheeler of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association.

The NTSB wants the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to conduct a detailed study of which types of activities are the most distracting and dangerous to drivers. To help collect data, the NTSB asked states to ensure their accident investigation forms have a place where police can enter possible distractions to drivers. Only 16 states now have such a place on their accident investigation forms.

The NTSB does not endorse the use of hands-free phone devices. It says that studies have found that hands-free devices were also distracting to drivers and no safer to use than a traditional cell phone.

States are not required to implement the NTSB's recommendations. However, many experts feel that doing so would cut down on driving distractions.

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