There are never enough hours in the day to get everything done, so many of us multitask by making calls while driving. But research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that dialing and driving is just as dangerous as drinking and driving. In fact, researchers found that motorists talking on a phone are four times as likely to crash as other drivers, and are as likely to cause an accident as someone with a .08 blood alcohol content.
Even more, the government has known since 2003 that drivers talking on their cell phones experience the same potentially deadly distraction whether they are using a handheld device or hands-free technology. At least five states and the District of Columbia have passed laws requiring drivers to use hands-free phones, mistakenly believing those devices to be safe and encouraging drivers to use them. But the research shows that it’s the conversation itself, not the device, that diverts attention away from the road.
Why haven’t you heard this before? Because the documents from 2003 were kept under wraps by the government. That’s right—instead of protecting the safety of Americans, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sat on them for years. The only reason they came to light: Public Citizen (representing The Center for Auto Safety) sued under the Freedom of Information Act to get them, and we won.
Since we gave the documents to The New York Times, media outlets all over the country have asked the same question: why was the information withheld? CBS Evening News with Katie Couric interviewed our attorney in charge of the case, as ABC World News with Charles Gibson covered the story too. As our attorney, Margaret Kwoka, said:
It is a travesty that NHTSA kept secret factual information that could have saved lives. Although FOIA protects an agency’s decision-making process, these documents reflect facts about safety risks that the public had every right to see.