NTSB pushes for nationwide ban on cellphone use for drivers


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

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has recommended a nationwide ban on the use of personal electronic devices while driving. As Ashley Halsey III reported:

The National Transportation Safety Board recommended Tuesday that all states and the District ban cellphone use behind the wheel, becoming the first federal agency to call for an outright prohibition on telephone conversations while driving.

Distracted driving, some of it due to cellphone use, contributed to an estimated 3,092 deaths in highway crashes last year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“No call, no text, no update, is worth a human life,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. “It is time for all of us to stand up for safety by turning off electronic devices when driving.”

The independent NTSB has neither the legislative muscle of Congress nor the regulatory power of the White House, but as the nation’s leading federal safety advocate its recommendations carry weight in both places. Its recommendations also provide political cover if Congress or the administration wants to take on the powerful cellphone industry lobby and an American public addicted to cellphones and other forms of electronic communication.

It would be up to state legislatures, which already have banned text messaging while driving in 35 states and the District, to decide whether cellphone use should be illegal. But in the past, Congress has not been shy about leveraging its control of the federal purse strings to bring states in line on issues such as seat belts and the legal drinking age.

“The NTSB recommendation may be a game-changer,” said Jonathan Adkins, spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association. “States aren’t ready to support a total ban yet, but this may start the discussion.”

The cellphone industry trade association, CTIA, has supported bans on texting while driving. But the group said it would “defer to state and local lawmakers and their constituents” on laws that govern talking on devices while driving.

Distracted driving is a proven safety hazard, yet will a ban on talking and texting work? As Hayley Tsukayama explained:

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.

One car company which is attempting to deal with the problem of distracted drivers attempting to text is Ford, which has a Sync service including an integrated voice text messaging feature. As Hayley Tsukayama reported:

In an effort to cut down on texting and driving, Ford is adding text messaging services as an upgrade on all vehicles that use its Sync service. Sync is Ford’s foray into the world of connected cars — a system that lets drivers use voice commands to make phone calls, control music and get weather or traffic reports.

According to Mashable, Ford is rolling the text messaging feature Tuesday to all models from 2010 or later with Sync installed. To get the new feature, Ford owners should head to the Ford Sync site to download the upgrade and installation instructions, the report said.

Connected cars are seen as a growing trend, adding a layer of meaning to the term “mobile device.” At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, Audi and Ford both delivered keynote speeches that touched on Web-connected cars. A report last week from the New York Times indicated that it was a hot topic at last week’s CTIA-The Wireless Association meeting for enterprise and business applications.

More from The Washington Post

Poll: Do you use your cellphone while driving?

NTSB recommends ban on nonemergency driver cellphone use

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