Studies have also revealed other hazards related to cell phone use -- whether due to kids using a phone in the crosswalk, people talking while ambling down the street, or teenagers texting while driving.
A total of 14 states and the District of Columbia specifically prohibit drivers from text messaging while on the road, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
"Safety is the number one priority for the Department of Transportation and Secretary LaHood is deeply concerned that drivers are taking their focus off the road to send text messages or use their cell phone," countered Transportation Department press secretary Sasha Johnson in a statement today. "Distracted driving causes crashes and we want to stress that the best way to avoid accidents is for drivers to keep their eyes and their concentration on the road when they get behind the wheel."
Data from the government's 2003 document made public today specifically shows that there's a 38 percent increase of accident risk for cell phone users. It revealed that drivers made more the 200 million in-car calls each day at that time. It also revealed that 92.5 percent of cell phone drivers in crashes had prior traffic violations.
The document, marked "For Internal Use Only," says, "We recommend that drivers not use these devices when driving, except in an emergency."
It also said, "We are convinced that legislation forbidding the use of hand-held cell phones while driving may not be effective in improving highway safety since it will not address the problem…such legislation may erroneously imply that hands-free phones are safe to use while driving."
"This was the government's bible on cell phone use and cell phone research and it never got published," Ditlow said today.
"It was primarily a look at everything. It was a worldwide search of research on cell phone use and hazards."
Still, those findings weren't made public until now.
"We don't know whether the cell phone industry pressured the government to hide these studies or not," Ditlow said. "They clearly had an economic interest."
"At this point, the debate should not be about what the federal government didn't do," Anne McCartt, senior vice president for research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, told ABC News today. "That's not the challenge, I think, in this area. The challenge is to come up with a counter measure, a program, a strategy that can reduce what we know is a dangerous problem and a problem that is becoming more and more common."
Today, the Center for Auto Safety is asking the Transportation Department to reconsider its petition calling for cell phones to be deactivated when the car starts. The safety center's petition was denied in June 2008.
"There's some technologies being developed that will try to either block signals allowing someone to talk on a phone or preventing telephone calls when a vehicle is moving," McCartt said. "Whether or not these will be effective and whether they'll be accepted by the public, I think is an unknown."
"It's a frustrating, unsatisfying answer, but we don't, at this point, know an effective strategy for getting drivers off their phones," she added.