To illustrate, the folks at AccuConference built a handy infographic, using data culled from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the National Safety Council, the Department of Transportation's Distraction.gov website, and news organizations like Reuters. Among the infographic's key points:
• In 2009, over 18% of traffic fatalities caused by distracted driving involved a mobile phone as a contributing factor (though as the graphic indicates, the percentage could actually be higher).
•Though drivers under 20 tend to be more distracted than other groups, it's drivers in the 30 - 39 range who are most likely to be involved in a fatal accident caused by cell phone usage.
•As we've said time and time again, it doesn't matter whether you hold a phone to your ear or use a hands-free device: it's the act of taking the call that's dangerous, and it can impair a driver's reaction as much as having a blood-alcohol level of .08 percent (past the legal limit).
•Only 20% of Fortune 500 companies responding to an NSC survey indicated that they ban employees from using cell phones while driving.
•Of those companies, 41% said productivity in employees either increased or stayed the same, while 7% said that productivity slipped. (The remaining 52% hadn't yet evaluated the situation.)
•Of the 80% of Fortune 500 companies that don't have cell phone bans, just over one-third -- 35% -- said they were planning to enact a ban soon.
As a result of all this data-gathering, AccuConference makes the not-entirely-unexpected claim that the number of cell phone bans will continue to climb over time. While AccuConference seems to focus on bans issued to employees by corporations, we could also see state governments revisiting the myriad of cell phone laws on their books and upping the restrictions. (At the moment, only nine states, plus the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands, prohibit the use of handheld devices for calls. None outlaw cell phone use entirely except in special situations, like novice drivers.)
If that's the case, though, it raises a thorny question for the auto industry: what the heck are telematics outfits going to do? If taking calls of any sort is banned -- either hands-on or hands-free -- where does that leave Ford Sync, Mercedes Mbrace, and all the other in-dash systems on the market or in development? What about concierge services like OnStar? Would they be toast, too?
And what's the real problem: the invention of cell phones or the creation of laws to restrict them? Is the genie out of the bottle? And if so, how do we shove it back in? Or do we just find another bottle to house it until Google's autonomous cars come along and save us all?