[scientific american] The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) put politics above public safety in 2003 when it suppressed research estimating that cell phone use—both phone calls and text messaging—while driving had caused hundreds of thousands of car accidents and hundreds of crash-related deaths the previous year, the New York Times reports. This information came to light today when two Washington, D.C., consumer advocacy groups—Public Safety and the Ralph Nader-founded Center for Auto Safety—won their Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to make public the some 250 pages of research compiled in 2003.
Based on their research, a team of NHTSA workers estimated that cell phone use by drivers caused 955 fatalities and about 240,000 accidents in 2002. [The documents can be found on the Times Web site.] Other research reinforces the NHTSA's findings: motorists talking on a phone are four times as likely to crash as other drivers, and they are as likely to cause an accident as someone with a .08 blood alcohol content.
Congress discouraged the NHTSA from releasing the information (even threatening to withhold funding), warning the agency to "stick to its mission of gathering safety data," NHTSA officials told the Times. The legislators were reportedly concerned that the agency would take its research directly to the states in an attempt to encourage them to pass laws against cell phone use while driving.
Watchdogs: Feds buried data proving that handheld tech dangerously distracts drivers