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Shut Up And Drive!

Sharyn Alfonsi
CBS
A few seconds' distraction is all it takes for a driver to lose control and cause an accident. But CBS News Correspondent Drew Levinson reports more and more, it's not what's going on outside but rather what's going on inside the car that's the distraction.

For many of us, our cars have become our offices. We can not only talk on the phone but also receive faxes and e-mail.

Many cars now provide information right on the windshield.

This new technology does allow us to stay in contact with the outside world and makes our lives much easier, but at the same time study after study shows these devices could be putting our lives at risk.

A new report found a quarter of the more than six million crashes every year are caused by drivers distracted by other activities inside the car. Onboard navigation systems put drivers at the greatest risk, and one safety expert says you're 30 times more likely to have an accident while trying to program the units while driving. GM and Ford say their systems can't be programmed while the car is moving.

"Drivers, it seems, increasingly are paying attention to everything but driving," says Phil Recht, auto safety analyst. "All these devices have the potential of taking your mind off the road, your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel. And when that happens the potential for crashes increases."

And crashes do happen, every single day. Investigators say country music star George Jones crashed his SUV while talking on the phone and trying to play a tape. Overall, experts estimate distractions play a role in up to 50 percent of all auto accidents, some 8,000 crashes a day.

A study by the New England Journal of Medicine says talking on the phone quadruples a driver's chance of having an accident.

A handful of towns are trying to crack down. As CBS News Transportation Correspondent Bob Orr reports, Marlboro, N.J. has voted to prohibit drivers from using hand-held cell phones. They must use a speaker or headset instead.

But the American Automobile Association says hand-held or hands-free, it makes little difference.

"The physical act of having a phone up to your ear is not what is distracting. What is the most distracting is someone engaging in an intense conversation so that they are not paying attention to the task at hand, which is driving," said Mantill Williams, of AAA.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration begins meetings on Tuesday to discuss the problem.

No one wants to put the brakes on technology, but yielding to common sense in the car would be a start. As one safety expert put it, just because we can develop the technology doesn't mean we should put it in a car.