Cellular Phones – Are They Good To Have In Your Car Or Just A Distraction?
While the benefits to society are significant, cellular phones and other forms of wireless technology also create distractions that increase a driver's risk on the highways, a new National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report has concluded.
The concern about driver distractions is heightened by the rising popularity of cellular phones and the development of on-board navigation systems, portable facsimile machines and other wireless technologies for the car. The distractions include wireless communication systems but also may be related to other factors, including in-car dining, entertainment systems or adjustment of dashboard controls.
The number of cellular phones has risen from 345,000 in 1985 to 50 million today and is expected to more than double by the year 2000. Significant growth also is expected with other technologies, including on-board navigation systems that are expected to proliferate through Intelligent Transportation System development.
As cars more and more become an extension of the home and office, we are creating a whole new array of potentially hazardous distractions that must be better understood, said NHTSA Administrator Ricardo Martinez, M.D.
To help in that understanding, the report, An Investigation of the Safety Implications of Wireless Communications in Vehicles, summarizes current NHTSA activities on related issues and recommends a future research strategy to fill in gaps in current knowledge.
Though there are concerns about driver distractions, the report offers a litany of benefits that have been derived from cellular phones and other forms of wireless technology. Among them:
- Faster emergency medical service response time because of quick notification by phone-equipped motorists.
- Quicker conveyance of information to authorities about road hazards, congestion or problem drivers.
- Heightened personal security for occupants of phone-equipped vehicles. The devices also make it easier to summon help in the event of mechanical difficulties or other roadside mishaps.
While more research is needed, NHTSA already understands a great deal about the role of distractions in highway crashes. Previous NHTSA studies suggest, for example, that driver inattention is a primary or contributing factor in as many as 50 percent of all crashes.
To better understand the phenomenon, NHTSA has since 1994 been collecting data on pre-crash factors, which include the general area of driver inattention and specifically address cellular telephone use as a causal factor. Using an innovative in-car video monitoring system called MICRO-DAS, NHTSA also is actively researching the correlation between driver distraction and the use of cellular phones along with other in-vehicle technologies.
Despite the current research, the NHTSA report concluded that the available data is insufficient to estimate the magnitude of the problem. It recommended an array of research strategies to better understand the potential safety consequences of using wireless communication in a moving vehicle.
Dr. Martinez said that the study is an invaluable blueprint for not only understanding the safety implications of wireless communications but also for reminding people of the vast rewards associated with this emerging technology.
Tanya Padana contributes and publishes news editorial to http://www.cellular-camera-phones.com.
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