Report Shows Federal Agency Withheld Data on Risks of Driving While Talking on the Phone

By July 27, 2009Traffic Safety

According to the New York Times, the federal government has buried for six years data showing that talking on the phone while driving causes substantial deaths and injuries. Needless to say, this is a huge story for a Missouri car accident attorney like me.
To sum it up: Six years ago, researchers at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a federal agency, came to their superiors at the Department of Transportation to propose a long-term study of 10,000 drivers. The aim of the study was to assess, in depth, all of the safety risks of cell phone use behind the wheel. The researchers came armed with binders full of studies and statistics that suggested that hands-free devices did little to prevent auto accidents. Instead, the studies indicated that far greater risk comes from distraction — the mind being divided between a phone conversation and the road.
While other, smaller studies had turned up similar conclusions, the NHTSA’s prestige, connections to state legislatures and high-profile public awareness campaigns could potentially have saved thousands of lives. However, not only was the study not approved, the data was buried. According to the New York Times story, the information was suppressed due to the agency’s concerns about upsetting members of Congress who could determine how much money was allocated to the Department of Transportation. In short, decision-makers suppressed this data for political reasons.
Now that the statistics have been released, they show that it had, and has, the potential to save lives. The NHTSA estimated that 955 people were killed and 240,000 accidents were caused by cell phone use while driving in 2002 (just one year). These figures were based on the assumption that six percent of drivers would be talking on the phone at any given time. That’s half of what the NHTSA assumes today, so it’s not hard to imagine that their fatality and accident statistics may also have doubled, to an estimated 1,910 deaths and nearly 500,000 accidents this year. But if evidence had been released to the public six years ago that using any type of cell phone while driving was dangerous as having a 0.08 blood-alcohol content (the level at which you are legally drunk in Missouri and Illinois), do you think 12 percent of us would be using cell phones while driving today?
As a Missouri car crash lawyer, I hope not. While recent legislative battles in Missouri and elsewhere show that drivers don’t want to give up their ability to talk and drive, it’s becoming increasingly clear that this is a question of public safety. Just ask the victims of last summer’s tragic trucking accident on Interstate 40, the school bus-truck accident in Florida or train accidents in Boston and Los Angeles — all of which were ultimately traced to cell phone use by an operator who should have known better. At the very least, people have a right to know about these dangers, so they can make a fully informed decision for themselves. At most, this data could have been used in state legislatures throughout our country to save lives by banning phoning and driving. If officials at the Department of Transportation, members of Congress or the mobile phone industry chose to suppress information that could have saved lives, they have indirectly chosen profits and convenience over public safety.


If you have been seriously injured by a distracted driver who was using a cell phone or any other distraction, you should speak with an experienced personal injury attorney right away. With offices in St. Louis and Belleville, Ill., Carey, Danis & Lowe represents those who have been badly hurt in car crashes in Missouri and southern Illinois. Our St. Louis auto accident lawyers are here to help you recover the money you need to pay for medical bills, lost wages, and other financial losses incurred by the accident. If you find yourself in this position and would like to learn more about your rights, please contact us online, or call us toll-free today at 1-877-678-3400 for a free, confidential consultation.