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Good Question: Are Cell Phones The Most Distracting?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The National Transportation Safety Board wants every state to ban all cell phones used by drivers -- no texting, no talking, not even hands-free. But are cell phones more distracting than any of the other distractions inside our cars?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, at any given daylight moment, 13.5 million drivers are on hand-held phones. And the government blames more than 3,000 roadway deaths last year on distracted driving.

Crashes because of cell phones are included in that statistic, but so are crashes because of other issues.

"Eating a hamburger while you're driving is very distracting, because you're worried you're going to spill stuff all over yourself," said Max Donath, director of the Intelligent Transportations Systems Institute at the University of Minnesota.

Donath said his group did early research that found driving while on a cell phone can be as distracting as driving drunk.

"I believe we do have a crisis and crash statistics point out that there is a problem," he said.

However, he questions whether a law would actually get people to change their behavior.

"There's a real problem with: how do we enforce a law?" he said.

When it comes to distracting driving, Donath said the research is all over the place.

While he found cell phone driving to be close to drunk driving, others have found it actually focuses you more on the driving task. Hands-free cell talking can be safer, unless the conversation is highly emotional, at which point it's dangerous.

Looking down to change the radio station is dangerous, as well as shaving and putting on lipstick, according to Donath..

"The issue really is there are so many more people using their smart phones, there's so many people who think they can get away with texting," he said. "It is about exposure. More drivers are exposing themselves to this particular distracting behavior, which is why we're seeing so many problems."

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