Tuesday, December 13, 2011

NTSB Urges States to Prohibit Cellphone While Driving, Even w/Hands Free Devices

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on Tuesday (December 13) urged states to prohibit the use of cellphones and other electronic devices while driving, even with hands-free devices (HFD).

The agency's recommendations, made during a meeting to discuss a deadly highway collision that occurred in Missouri last year, go well beyond current restrictions on cellphones and hand-held devices while driving.

The NTSB also cites some 3,000 fatal accidents that may be linked to distractions while driving.

COMMENT: Although the five-member NTSB does not have the authority to mandate the 50 states to adopt their recommendations, it is doubtful given drivers' reliance on cell phones to successfully enforce such a recommendation if it became law in any of the states.

HFDs, which are designed to permit drivers keep both hands on the wheel while talking on a cellphone via speakers or a headset, would be prohibited as well under the guidelines. "It may seem like it's a very quick call, a very quick text, a tweet or an update," said NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman. "But accidents happen in the blink of an eye."

No state bans use of both hand-held and hands-free cellphones for fully licensed drivers, although some have such a ban for younger drivers. Nine states and Washington, D.C., prohibit the use of hand-held cellphones, and 35 states and D.C. have a ban on texting while driving, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association, a group that represents highway-safety offices.

Although it might seem that hands-free devices would be safer by allowing drivers to keep both hands on the steering wheel, the U.S. Transportation Department has said research shows that drivers are still distracted by the phone conversation itself and miss audio and visual cues that would normally help a person avoid a crash.

The Missouri case that prompted the NTSB's recommendation involved a pickup-truck driver who crashed into the back of a truck-tractor, which had slowed down because of a construction zone. The NTSB investigation revealed that the pickup driver sent and received 11 text messages in the 11 minutes preceding the accident. The pickup was then struck from behind by a school bus, which was hit by a second school bus. As a result, two people died and 38 others were injured.

In the end, it is hoped that public education is effective in deterring drivers from being preoccupied with cell phone usage while driving. On the other hand, passing laws to prevent errors in judgment in every aspect of the lives of citizens seems fruitless.

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