Block cellphones in vehicles, experts urge

Thousands of people die in car crashes each year because drivers were too distracted by their cellphones to pay attention to the road. A pair of researchers from West Virginia University have a radical proposal for reducing that death toll — equip cars with devices that make it impossible to send a text message, check your favorite traffic app or dial home while the car is in motion.

“Simply stated, handheld portable devices must be rendered unoperable whenever the automobile is in motion or when the transmission shift lever is in forward or reverse gear,” they wrote in a Viewpoint essay in Wednesday’s edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association. “Automobile and cell phone equipment manufacturers have the engineering capabilities to implement these safeguards, and they should be required to do so.”

Sound extreme? Consider the health costs of distracted driving:

•Experts at the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis in Boston have calculated that drivers using cellphones cause 333,000 injuries (including 12,000 that were serious) and 2,600 deaths per year.

Researchers from the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth have estimated that texting accounted for more than 16,000 crash-related deaths between 2001 and 2007.

Investigators at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute in Blacksburg have concluded that, compared with driving with a cellphone put away, texting while driving increases the risk of a “safety-critical event” by a factor of 23 and dialing while driving increases the risk by a factor of six.

Passing a law is not enough to solve this problem, according to the Viewpoint authors, Dr. Jeffrey Coben and Motao Zhu. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says that 10 states and the District of Columbia have banned the use of handheld cellphones while driving, and 39 states and the District of Columbia have made it illegal to text while driving. Yet in surveys, 40 percent of drivers still admit to talking on the phone when they’re behind the wheel and 13 percent own up to texting.

“As individuals continue to use their cell phones nearly continuously throughout the day, for both business and pleasure, they will continue to be tempted to use this technology — if available — while driving,” Coben and Zhu wrote. Hence the need to make this technology unavailable, they said.

That would still leave room for hands-free systems that let you dial by voice or translate text messages into computer speech, Coben and Zhu wrote — but only if research shows that such systems don’t lead to distracted driving.

In the meantime, “The federal government should enact stringent new safety standards that require all handheld devices to be rendered inoperable when the motor vehicle is in motion,” the pair concluded. “Failure to act in this manner will result in the continued loss of thousands of lives each year to this preventable public safety hazard. In this era of smartphones and smart cars, it is time to be smarter about keeping them apart from one another.”

More in Local News

Shock from WSU suicide ripples through Snohomish County

Roughly 1 in 10 seniors, sophomores and 8th-graders said they had attempted to take their own lives.

New leaders coming to county, state political parties

Hillary Moralez of Bothell takes over as chair for the Snohomish County Democratic Party.

Mom and brother turn in suspect in Stanwood robberies

The man is suspected of robbing the same gas station twice, and apologizing to the clerk afterward.

$1,000 reward for info on who killed an eagle near Snohomish

After being shot, the raptor was treated at the Sarvey Wildlife Center but died overnight.

Possible bobcat sighting keeps Snohomish students inside

The creature was spotted on the campus of Valley View Middle School around noon.

Derrick “Wiz” Crawford, 22, is a suspect in the homicide of his roommate. (Edmonds Police Department)
Roommate suspected in Edmonds killing found hiding in closet

Police had been searching for him for 10 days before locating him at a house in Everett.

Stabbing in Everett follows dispute between brothers-in-law

The victim, 54, was hospitalized. The suspect, 29, had not been apprehended Thursday.

Camano Island man gets 18 years for role in drug ring

He was convicted of helping lead a drug distribution network in four Washington counties.

Lake Stevens man missing since beginning of January

Jason Michael Knox White hasn’t used his credit card or withdrawn money from his bank since then.

Most Read