DUI Task Force - Cell Phone Use
NHTSA Policy and FAQs on Cellular Phone Use While Driving
The primary responsibility of the driver is to operate a motor vehicle safely. The task of driving requires full attention and focus. Cell phone use can distract drivers from this task, risking harm to themselves and others. Therefore, the safest course of action is to refrain from using a cell phone while driving.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Does cell phone use while driving cause traffic crashes?
Yes. Research shows that driving while using a cell phone can pose a serious cognitive distraction and degrade driver performance. The data are insufficient to quantify crashes caused by cell phone use specifically, but NHTSA estimates that driver distraction from all sources contributes to 25 percent of all police-reported traffic crashes.
Q. Is it safe to use hands-free (headset, speakerphone, or other device) cell phones while driving?
No. The available research indicates that whether it is a hands-free or hand-held cell phone, the cognitive distraction is significant enough to degrade a driver’s performance. This can cause a driver to miss key visual and audio cues needed to avoid a crash.
Q. In an emergency should I use my cell phone while driving?
As a general rule, drivers should make every effort to move to a safe place off of the road before using a cell phone. However, in emergency situations a driver must use their judgment regarding the urgency of the situation and the necessity to use a cell phone while driving.
Q. Is NHTSA conducting further research to better quantify the safety impact of using cell phones while driving?
Yes. NHTSA is conducting research projects on driver cell phone use and will continue to monitor the research of others on this subject. As we learn more about the impact of cell phone use on driver performance and crash risk, and as wireless technologies evolve and expand, NHTSA will make its findings public.
Q. Is talking on a cell phone any worse than having a conversation with someone in the car?
Any activity a driver engages while driving has the potential to distract the driver from the primary task of driving. Some research findings comparing cell phone use to passenger conversations while driving, show each to be equally risky, while others show cell phone use to be more risky. A significant difference between the two is the fact that a passenger can monitor the driving situation along with the driver and pause for, or alert the driver to, potential hazards, whereas a person on the other end of the phone line is unaware of the roadway situation.
Q. What do the studies say about the relative risk of cell phone use when compared to other tasks like eating or drinking?
The current research does not provide a definitive answer as to which behavior is riskier. In a controlled study, comparing eating and operating a voice-activated cell phone to continuously operating a CD player, it was found that the CD player operation was more distracting than the other activities. In a test track study conducted by NHTSA, the results showed that manual dialing was about as distracting as grooming/eating, but less distracting than reading or changing CDs. It is also important to keep in mind that some activities are carried out more frequently and for longer periods of time and may result in greater risk.
Q. Is it against the law to drive while talking on my cell phone?
Many communities and some states have laws that prohibit the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. Therefore, it would seem like a good idea to get out of the habit of talking on a cell phone while driving, and always pull to the side of the road before calling someone or carrying on a conversation. Even if a law enforcement officer would not write you a citation if you were from out of the area, it would still be an inconvenience to be stopped.
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