Researchers say cell phone distractions could lead to traffic accidents

Reported by Laura Sinacori - bio|email
Posted by Debra Worley - email

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Researchers say using cell phones while driving is a huge distraction, and many states have already banned hand-held devices behind the wheel.

Now, a national safety group is recommending that cell phones be banned while driving.

Researchers at the Harvard Center for risk analysis think even hands free talking devices are dangerous for drivers.

Even though it can sometimes be distracting, there is no state law against it.

Josh Walters talks and texts on his phone while he's driving and says he knows how risky it is.

"I've watched my brother get in a wreck over it twice," said Walters.  "I've run off the road several times and have close encounters altogether, but I still do it - everyone does."

Wilmington Police Officer Mark Anderson said he's not surprised that many accidents are caused by cell phone distractions.

"There's thousands of crashes in Wilmington every year, " said Anderson. "We lead the state in property damage crashes, and I'm sure that many of those are caused by cell phone usage."

Crash reports in North Carolina don't include a spot for officers to indicate that a cell phone was the likely cause of an accident, but officers say people probably wouldn't admit to it anyway.

"I think that once you're in a crash and you know you're on the phone and it caused the crash, even if police don't know, I imagine you wake up," said Anderson.

So far, 6 states ban drivers from using handheld devices while driving, though more could soon be on the list.

Anderson says it could take drivers a while to comply with a cell phone law, since it's become second nature for many.

"People don't want government regulating their lives," said Anderson.  "It's hard enough to get people to wear seat belts. It just comes down to individual responsibility."

"The state would be making so much money, because so many people would be getting tickets," said Walters.

North Carolina currently has a statute that bans all drivers from 16-18 from using any type of cell phones, as well as school bus drivers.

Police officers suggest that you pull over to a safe place if you need to talk on your phone, or that you wait until you get to your destination to make or return a call.