Do bans against talking and texting while driving work?


FILE - In this Sept. 20, 2011 file photo, a phone is held in a car in Brunswick, Maine. Texting, emailing or chatting on a cellphone while driving is simply too dangerous to be allowed, federal safety investigators declared Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011, urging all states to impose total bans except for emergencies. (AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach, File) (Pat Wellenbach/AP)
December 14, 2011

On Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that states ban all talking and texting behind the wheel.

“It is time for all of us to stand up for safety by turning off electronics while driving,” board chairwoman Deborah A.P. Hersman said in a statement.

There’s no denying that distracted driving is a problem. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving contributed to around 3,092 traffic deaths last year. Banning cellphones seems like an easy fix and an honorable sentiment, but would it actually work?

That’s harder to argue, especially given recent data indicating that texting and driving is up 50 percent in the past year, even as states move to ban the practice. The Associated Press reported that the NHTSA also estimates that nearly one out of every 100 drivers is e-mailing, texting or Web surfing while driving. Young drivers are more likely to drive distracted, the report said, with nearly five of every 10 drivers in the 21-24 age bracket saying they would answer a cellphone call while driving.

In some ways, these results are hardly surprising. It’s common to see drivers breaking rules requiring hands-free headsets. Auto makers and cellphone manufacturers have been trying to tackle the problem as well, integrating voice-recognition technology into cars and offering motion-sensing apps for phones to discourage talking while driving.

Still, real-world calls never seem to go as smoothly as the hands-free conversations in the commercials, and that keeps people reaching for their phones even when they know better. In fact, most people recognize the dangers of using electronic devices while driving — around 88 percent, the Post reported — but a third admit they still use their phones for talking and texting behind the wheel.

For its part, CTIA - The Wireless Association has said it agrees that distracted driving is a dangerous problem and that it supports bans on texting and driving.

“As far as talking on wireless devices while driving, we defer to state and local lawmakers and their constituents as to what they believe are the most appropriate laws where they live,” the group said in a statement Tuesday.

Related stories:

NTSB urges nationwide ban on cellphone use while driving

Ford’s Sync takes on texting and driving

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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