Safety council wants to ban cell phones

January 12, 2009 7:45:04 PM PST
Six states, including California, now have hands-free cell phone laws, but does that really improve safety on the road? Now a government watchdog group wants to make any kind of cell phone use while driving illegal.

Hands-free is no better than hands-on. That's according to the National Safety Council, which wants to ban all cell phone use by drivers in all 50 states.

"They think that if they're just careful, there won't be as much of a risk. What the research is saying is 'No, for everybody,'" said Janet Froetscher, from the National Safety Council.

San Ramon-based Chevron Corporation banned cell phone use by its 59,000 employees, while driving, six years ago.

"The policy is very simple. Don't use your cell phone. If the phone rings while you're driving, pull over to a safe place and then you can use the phone," said Sean Comey, a Chevron spokesman.

That National Safety Council bases its recommendation on some studies that show cell phone use, in any form, is a very high risk behavior for anyone behind the wheel. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, drivers using cell phones are four times more likely to be in a crash.

And a cognitive study done by the University of Utah showed that drivers are no less distracted using a hands-free device than they would be holding their phone in their hand.

"Do you see a lot of drivers who look distracted even though they're not holding a phone?" asked ABC7's Laura Anthony.
"Everyday, in every way. They distracted with five or six different reasons, but the phone's one they don't need," said James Dean, a bus driver.

"I think it's probably a non-starter for California," said State Senator Joe Simitian (D) of Palo Alto.

Even Senator Simitian, who authored California's new hands-free law, thinks a total ban is probably out of reach.

"It took me six years to persuade the legislature and the governor that we ought to have a hands-free bill in California. Going that next, very significant step, I think would be a very hard sell," said Senator Simitian.

The National Safety Council plans to send letters to lawmakers in all 50 states, encouraging them to adopt statewide bans.