“I was seduced at the moment by technology,” John Lee told the National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday.
The NTSB began a daylong exploration about the risks posed by technology — old, new and still on the horizon — while behind the wheel.
The NTSB last year called for a ban on cellphone use while driving, putting it a step beyond the U.S. Department of Transportation and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who has led a national crusade against distracted driving.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says 5,474 people died and 448,000 were injured in 2009 in crashes where distraction was involved.
“It’s clear that we don’t need another decade of investigations and recommendations,” NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said, opening the hearing with a call to action.
She said Chapel Hill, N.C., on Monday approved a complete ban on cellphone use while driving.
While 35 states and the District prohibit drivers from text messaging, and nine states and the District ban hand-held cellphones, no state has banned all cellphone use.
“To my knowledge, Chapel Hill is the first [local government] with an overall cell phone ban,” said Jonathan Adkins of the Governors Highway Safety Association.
Though there are a vast array of distractions over which drivers have no control, Anne McCartt of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said cellphone use and text messaging pose a high risk “because they expect a response.”
Citing seat belt use as an example, McCartt cautioned that educating drivers isn’t enough to change behavior.
She said crash avoidance technology now being introduced in some vehicles may help, but it also may lull drivers into a false sense of security.
Donald Fisher, a University of Massachusetts professor, said novice drivers are 16 times more likely to take a “dangerous glance” away from the road.”
“We ought to quickly move to banning cellphone use in work zones and school zones,” Fisher said.
NTSB board member Mark Rosekind cited research that underscored the risk of distractions.
“Multi-tasking is a misconception,” he said. “We all think we can do it, but we can’t.”
The NTSB is an independent federal safety agency which makes recommendations to Congress and the White House but has no regulatory or law making authority.