Cell phones leading cause of driver distraction, CHP says

| 2/25/2003

Cell phone use is the leading cause of crashes that can be blamed on driver distraction, according to a study by the California Highway Patrol. The study stopped short of recommending legislation to ban talking on the phone while driving.

Steve Kohler, a CHP spokesman in Sacramento, said, “Until we have a better understanding of the nature and magnitude of any safety-related problem, our goal should be to enhance safety education rather than restrict access to any particular device or system, including cell phones.”

During the first six months of 2002, there were 491,083 drivers involved in traffic collisions in California. Driver “inattention” was a cause in slightly more than 1 percent of the collisions.

In collision reports filed by the CHP and local police officers, the use of a cell phone was the most common reason the driver was distracted. Cell phones played a role in 11 percent of the collisions related to driver distraction.

Fumbling with the radio tuner or CD player was the primary distraction for nearly as many collisions as cell phones, with 9 percent of collisions caused by that type of driver distraction. Other factors of distraction included tending to children, eating, reading, smoking, tending to animals and grooming.

The largest category – accounting for two-thirds of collisions in which the driver was distracted – was “other,” which includes daydreaming, visual distractions and reading street signs.

Assemblyman Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, is sponsoring legislation to require drivers to use hands-free technology that would allow them to talk on the phone while keeping both hands on the steering wheel.

“I was pleased that, for the first time, the department has said it's time to look at the hands-free approach,” said Simitian, whose bill is scheduled to come before the Assembly's Transportation Committee March 3.