Suppressed federal study having ripple effect in Md.
The report this week that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been sitting on research it conducted in 2002-2003 on the safety implications of cell phone use while driving is prompting a leading Maryland advocacy group to reconsider its stance on the issue.
The Maryland Highway Safety Foundation had previously urged the Maryland General Assembly to adopt a ban on the use of hand-held cell phones. But according to co-chairman David Nevins, the news of NHTSA's long suppressed findings will put the question of a total ban on cell phone use behind the wheel on the foundation board's agenda.
In a draft report that was not released for fear of offending Congress, NHTSA researchers wrote: "We recommend that drivers not use these devices when driving, except in an emergency. Moreover, we are convinced that legislation forbidding the use of handheld cell phones while driving may not be effective in improving highway safety since it will not address the problem. In fact, such legislation may erroneously imply that hands-free phones are safe to use while driving,”
They based their recommendation on findings that there is "little, if any, difference between the use of hand-held and hands-free phones in contributing to the risk of a crash while driving distracted. Hands-free or hand-held, we have found that the cognitive distraction is significant enough to degrade a driver's performance."
The research found that about 25 percent of crashes reported to police were the result of driver distraction.
For many years, the General Assembly has regularly defeated any form of cell phone ban for adult drivers, though it did pass a law this year banning texting while driving.
Nevins said he is not sure what the foundation board will decide to put on its legislative agenda.
"We want to advocate for that which we can achieve," he said.