In a follow-up story to the one it published over the weekend, the New York Times on Monday reported that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) refused in 2003 to publish research data that indicated the risk of cell phone use and driving for fear, in part, of angering the US Congress.
The research was gathered as background support for a planned NHTSA proposal to conduct a long-term study into the risks of cell phone use and driver safety.
The New York Times story states,
"The former head of the highway safety agency said he was urged to withhold the research to avoid antagonizing members of Congress who had warned the agency to stick to its mission of gathering safety data but not to lobby states."
At stake, according to the Times, were billions of dollars in funding for the NHTSA and the US Department of Transportation if Congress didn't like what the NHTSA research indicated.
However, another NHSTA official disagreed and said that the research wasn't published because the data was not conclusive, not because a fear of Congressional funding cuts.
There was also speculation in the story that pressure was put on the NHTSA by cell phone companies not to publish the information, but no proof was offered.
The NHSTA today says it will not publish the 2003 research because it was only background material meant for agency use, not the public's.
You can read it here anyway, courtesy of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit submitted by The Center for Auto Safety and Public Citizen, who found out about the research.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.