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Auto-Safety Group Questions Merits of Handheld Mobile Phone Bans

A U.S. auto-safety group urged states to hold off on enacting bans on drivers’ use of handheld mobile phones, saying there’s not enough data about whether such prohibitions prevent crashes.

The Governors Highway Safety Association, comprised of state highway-safety offices, today urged states to ban texting behind the wheel and mobile-phone use by novice drivers and reserve judgment on banning phone use by non-beginners.

“While distracted driving is an emotional issue that raises the ire of many on the road, states must take a research-based approach to addressing the problem,” Barbara Harsha, executive director of the Washington-based group, said in a statement. “Until more research is conducted, states need to proceed thoughtfully, methodically and objectively.”

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has made distracted driving a signature issue, saying he is on a “rampage” to curb it. He supports bans on all use of handheld devices while driving.

“Any activities that take extended focus away from the primary task of driving are both unsafe and unwise,” Lynda Tran, a spokeswoman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said in an e-mail. “While NHTSA agrees with the GHSA recommendation that states should take a data-driven approach in making decisions about whether to push for laws mandating certain driver behaviors, we feel strongly there is robust evidence on the dangers of distracted driving.”

The highway-safety group’s study was paid for by State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., the largest U.S. auto insurer.

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