Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Unsafe in any mode

More and more covered-up government science keeps emerging from earlier this decade--science that could have saved lives. This time it's research by the Department of Transportation on the dangers of driver distraction. The New York Times reports
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.
Data, we don't need no stinkin' data. BTW, that would be the then Republican-controlled Congress and especially the House Appropriations Committee headed by Rep. Bill Young.

Researchers at the time estimated that cell phone use was responsible for nearly 1,000 traffic deaths per year and almost a quarter of a million accidents.

Perhaps even more importantly, researchers were concluding that "hands-free" devices were about as unsafe as regular cell phones.

As cell phone use has grown and the number of distracting features has multiplied, the safety problems have likely increased. Moreover, research was squelched at a time when behavior might have been easier to change.

Readers who are interested in the documents that were too dangerous to see can find them at the Times web-site. Those who want to cut to the chase can go to the last two pages where the DOT concludes
  • A significant body of experimental research indicates that both hand-held and handsfree cell phones increase the risk of a crash. Indeed, there is little if any difference between hand-held and hands-free phones in contributing to the risk to themselves
    and others.

  • Limiting use to hands-free phones while driving will not solve the problem. In either operational mode, we have found that the cognitive distraction is significant enough to degrade a drivers’ performance. We therefore recommend that drivers not use wireless communication devices, including text messaging systems, when driving, except in an emergency.

  • Moreover, legislation that only forbids the use of handheld cell phones while driving will not be effective since it will not address the problem. In fact, such legislation may erroneously imply that hands-fkee phones are safe.