Congressional hearings that began last week in the U.S. could influence how governments here deal with the issue of cell phone safety in vehicles. Transport Canada has been following the issue and is even conducting a joint study with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to assess the distraction potential of manual versus voice-activated versions of such tasks as dialing a phone, tuning a radio, and retrieving e-mail messages. The NHTSA’s executive director, Robert Shelton, appeared before the Congressional transportation subcommittee on May 9 to present some of his group’s research findings on the issue. An edited excerpt from his presentation appears below: For a number of years, policymakers have been weighing the benefits of wireless technology in cars against the growing evidence of their potential to increase driver distraction and the risks to highway safety. Though no State bans the use of cell phones in motor vehicles, since 1995 more than half of the States have considered various restrictions on the use of hand-held cell phones by drivers. Three States — California, Massachusetts, and Florida — impose minor restrictions on cell phone use in cars. To evaluate the contribution of driver distraction to crashes, NHTSA began conducting research in 1991 on the relationship between distractions and driving performance.  In a study published in July 2000, we looked at driver performance when destinations are entered into route navigation systems while vehicles are in motion… We found that all tasks were distracting to the driver. Generally, the use of the voice-activated system was less distracting than any of the visual-manual systems. Radio tuning and cell-phone dialing were less distracting than visual-manual destination entry, but not much different from voice-activated destination entry. Older drivers also had much more difficulty using the visual-manual entry systems than did the younger drivers. However, for the voice-activated system, the older drivers did as well as the younger drivers.  More data needed To supplement our research efforts and explore new directions for research, the agency completed three activities last year to identify gaps in knowledge about distraction and traffic safety: (1) a public meeting on July 18; an Internet forum between July 5 - Aug. 11; and expert workshops on Sept. 28 and Oct. 11.  As a result of the information we gathered … NHTSA plans to undertake the following: • Continue research to understand the factors that affect a driver’s performance while using various in-vehicle technologies such as cell phones, navigation systems, on-board personal computers, and other technologies. • Work with industry to support the development of test procedures and guidelines that can be used to design equipment that minimizes driver distraction. • Pursue consumer and public information efforts to help convey the knowledge gained from research to the public. • Monitor new in-vehicle technologies to determine how well manufacturers have evaluated their impact on safety. • Continue to encourage the development and deployment of technologies that can address the safety problems caused by driver distraction.  Over a dozen new studies are planned by NHTSA over the next two years. One will equip vehicles people actually own with data recorders to help us determine how long, how frequently, and under what traffic circumstances drivers take their eyes off the road. We also have begun a cooperative project with industry to develop methods to measure workload, develop workload management protocols, and determine the distraction potential of various in-vehicle technologies.  Finally, like many highway safety challenges, the problem of driver distraction as it relates to particular electronic devices brought into, installed or integrated in motor vehicles is one that will require all interests coming together to contribute to its resolution.