Hang up, already, and drive!
Late last night, the New York Times posted on its website a 2002 report by the U.S. Department of Transportation that reviews the risks of using a hands-free phone while driving.
The review document, only now coming to light after a FOIA request by advocacy groups, reaches the same conclusion that the series on multi-tasking by NPR's Jon Hamilton hammered home last fall: Driving while on the phone -- even a hands-free phone -- can be as distracting as driving drunk, and probably causes a significant number of crashes. Don't do it.
According to the Times, the former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says he was pressured by higher ups in 2002 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.
Um, okay. Suppressing scientific data -- even preliminary data -- is a very bad thing, we agree.
But to go on to suggest, as one California state senator quoted by the Times does, that the delay in publishing this particular report "cost thousands of lives," seems far-fetched.
(Read past the jump to for more on why)
The NTSB report was mostly a review of published papers. The information that it's dangerous to drive while using a hands-free phone or while otherwise inattentive was already out there and being written about.
It just wasn't making any difference to many drivers.
As a piece in Sunday's New York Times points out, even the state laws that ban the use of hand-held phones while driving are rarely enforced.
Researchers and lawmakers and plain-old-drivers with any common sense have known since long before 2002 that driving while on the phone -- or while tipsy, or tired, or sick, or while arguing with a passenger or while checking out your make-up, or your squabbling kids in the rear-view mirror -- can be very distracting and sometimes even lethal.
So why do we do all those things?
Enough already with the multi-tasking, especially on the road.