WASHINGTON, July 21 (UPI) -- Politics caused the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to withhold the alarming results of an early distracted driving study, critics say.
With concerns rising in 2002 that drivers "multitasking" by talking on cell phones while driving was causing fatal accidents, the highway board conducted research that estimated cell phone use by drivers had caused around 955 fatalities and 240,000 accidents that year. But the head of the agency now says the results were never published for fear of angering Congress, The New York Times reported.
Then-NHTSA chief Jeffrey Runge told the newspaper he grudgingly decided not to publish a recommendation against using cell phones while driving because of warnings by members of Congress not to lobby states and stick to a research mission.
Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center for Auto Safety, said that explanation raised concerns because the distracted driving research did not constitute lobbying of states and was consistent with the NHTSA's efforts in other areas, such as seat belts.
"No public health and safety agency should allow its research to be suppressed for political reasons," Ditlow told the Times, adding that doing so "will cause deaths and injuries on the highways."