John Lee of the University of Wisconsin has recently co-authored “Scrolling While Driving”, a scholarly paper addressing the risks of driving while distracted. Lee and other experts at the recent National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) day long forum on March 27, 2011 now credibly assert that even a two second distraction significantly increases the likelihood of a motor vehicle crash. And, according to experts at the forum, inexperienced drivers are over 15 times more likely to glance away from the road for two seconds or more. Use a handheld? Risk of a crash increases four times when a driver is on a call—even with a hands-free device, forum safety experts say.

The safety forum occurred as the Department of Transportation and the NTSB disagree on restrictions on distractions in motor vehicles. The U.S. Transportation Department recommends state ban of handheld cell phones and text messaging devices. The NTSB, by contrast seeks state bans of even hands-free devices.

Why care? Driver distraction is steadily causing more and more traffic fatalities, according to Jeff Caird of the University of Calgary. In 1999, distracted driving accounted for 4,563 U.S. driving fatalities (11% of all fatalities). By 2008 that number has increased to 5,870 people (almost 16% of all U.S. Traffic fatalities).

Safety forum panelists point out that distractions come from all sides: billboards, passengers, radio, playlists, scenery, food, the list goes on. Still, smart phone use has shown to be more distracting than simply talking to a passenger. Many experts are convinced that the largest challenge may be a public relations one. That is, getting drivers to realize just how short two seconds is.