LETTERS

INSURERS CONCERNED

ABOUT CAR PHONESA recent Journal of Commerce article (''Driving and mobile phones don't mix,'' April 18, Page 12A) notes that ''insurers could use a crash course in risks.'' The item notes that insurers ''seem relatively unconcerned about'' increased crash risk when driving while talking on the phone.

The evidence it cites to support insurers' supposed unconcern is failure to fund a study by John Violanti. That decision does not reflect unconcern about a potential hazard. Rather, it reflects concern about the design of Mr. Violanti's study of drivers with mobile phones. Because he approached us, we can speak directly to why we chose not to support his work. Among the basic problems of the proposed study were the absence of data on phone use at the time of crashes and an inadequate response rate (60 percent in a pilot study) among drivers in crashes. Plus, there were uncertainties about Mr. Violanti's methods of measuring phone use.

For these reasons, the Institute chose not to support Mr. Violanti. We support only those studies that, in our estimation, promise to substantially advance knowledge in the field of highway safety. We also monitor research relating to mobile phone use and driving performance, so our disinterest in a flawed research proposal shouldn't be confused with inattention to the subject of the proposal. In fact, we've repeatedly stated that using a cellular phone while driving almost certainly increases crash risk.

The key question - how much does the risk increase - isn't adequately addressed by Mr. Violanti's study because of its flaws. And there's another issue. If competent research establishes that risk is substantially increased by phone use while driving, what could be done to reduce the problem? Given the increasing use of cellular phones that aren't permanent fixtures in vehicles, effective countermeasures aren't obvious. Increasing insurance rates for vehicles with cellular phones would address, at best, only part of the problem. The reality is that people will continue to talk on car phones even if a relationship is established between their use and crashes. Funding a flawed study wouldn't help.

Brian O'Neill

President

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Arlington, Va.

AZERIS WON'T TRADE

OIL FOR CRIMINALS

I take exception to your May 9 article, ''Russia returning Azerbaijan dissidents'' (page 3A), which implies that Russia is using the return of ''coup plotters'' to secure a greater share of the proceeds from the development of Azerbaijan's oil resources. Azerbaijan welcomes Russia's cooperation in returning individuals who are wanted for crimes against the state. This symbolizes improving relations between our two countries.

But there is no way Azerbaijan would trade away its birthright and economic future - energy resources - for a few individuals who no longer pose any threat to the state. That would be a most unwise and inequitable trade, and I assure you it is not one that President Aliyev would consider.

Azerbaijan will develop its resources consistent with the best interest of the country's economic security and independence. We welcome the participation of other countries, including Russia. But our energy resources development decisions will not be based on what happens to a few people who are no longer relevant.

Hafiz M. Pashayev

Ambassador

Republic of Azerbaijan

Washington

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