My friend told me that she remembers thinking just before the impact, "My boys won't have a mother." Fortunately, although the driver squarely hit her side of the car and spun it around, my friend escaped with only minor injuries. Her car was totaled.
Today the New York Times reports that the U.S. government not only suppressed the carrying out of a proposed study into the risks of cell phone use while driving, but also suppressed releasing data from already conducted studies that clearly show how dangerous such behavior is. Notes the Times:
...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.
The highway safety researchers estimated that cellphone use by drivers caused around 955 fatalities and 240,000 accidents over all in 2002.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.
Psychologists who have studied multitasking are well aware of the reasons for this. Conscious activities such as talking on a cell phone require us to use our brain's working memory, a sort of mental blackboard that we use to carry out conscious tasks. But our working memory capacity is very limited, and it is very difficult for us to do more than one thing at a time--especially tasks that require conscious attention, such as driving.
But really, pretty much everyone knows this intuitively. That's why those people who insist on their right to talk on cell phones while driving are engaging in highly irresponsible behavior, to the point that it becomes disregard for human life. Such people may be perfectly nice in other aspects of their lives, but on the road they are potential killers. All cell phone use while driving, including hands free use, must be banned. Like smoking in public places, eventually it will be. The only question is how many people have to die in the meantime.
Photo: The automobile of Joan D. Skupien, 40, killed in Suffolk, Virginia while apparently talking on her cell phone. Fortunately, she was the only victim./City of Suffolk