Federal board recommends nationwide ban on texting, talking while driving
The National Transportation Safety Board on Dec. 13 recommended a nationwide ban on talking, texting and emailing on cellphones and smartphones while driving.
The recommendation calls for the 50 states and the District of Columbia to prohibit non-emergency use of electronic communication devices while driving. Hands-free devices would be included. Passengers using electronic devices would not be affected.
Deborah A.P. Hersman, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, says in a statement: “It is time for all of us to stand up for safety by turning off electronic devices when driving. No call, no text, no update is worth a human life.”
The National Transportation Safety Board is an independent federal agency that determines the causes of transportation accidents and promotes transportation safety. It does not regulate the transportation industry, including passenger cars, and does not have the power to enact a cellphone ban.
Recommendation may be ‘game changer’
Jonathan Adkins, a spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, says: “The NTSB recommendation may be a game changer. States aren’t ready to support a total ban yet, but this may start the discussion.”
A survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that nine of every 10 U.S. drivers of all ages support laws that ban texting while driving, and six of 10 back laws that ban the use of phones while driving.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says more than 3,000 people died in distraction-related accidents in 2010. The agency’s data shows that texting while driving in the United States rose 50 percent from 2009 to 2010.
“The data is clear; the time to act is now. How many more lives will be lost before we, as a society, change our attitudes about the deadliness of distractions?” Hersman says.
According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, nine states and the District of Columbia prohibit all drivers from using handheld cellphones. Meanwhile, 35 states and the District of Columbia forbid texting while driving.
No state bans all cellphone use (handheld and hands-free) for all drivers, but many prohibit all cellphone use by certain drivers, such as teens.
Auto insurance and distracted driving
Loretta Worters, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute, says there’s no direct correlation between distracted driving and auto insurance rates. However, if distracted driving leads to a car crash, the guilty driver most certainly faces a hike in his or her auto insurance premiums.
Worters says that if the nationwide ban does happen, she hopes it will result in fewer car crashes. Until such a ban takes effect, she says, if a driver needs to conduct business on an electronic device, he or she should get off the road.
“Your sole purpose in that car is to drive, and people forget that,” Worters says. “Any kind of distracted driving is an impediment to good driving.”
Stephen Wicker, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Cornell University, criticizes the proposed ban. In a news release, he says safety education coupled with hands-free communication capabilities in all cars would be a better approach to tackling distracted driving.
“While a noble stance, this is not an effective basis for policy,” Wicker, author of the upcoming book “Cellular Convergence and the Death of Privacy,” says of the safety board’s recommendation. “This sort of ethical calculus would set our speed limits at 10 mph and make many of our favorite foods illegal. This is a sledgehammer approach to an admittedly serious, but more nuanced problem.”
The professor adds: “Speech is a critical element to a functioning democracy. We should be extremely careful before we create a vast speech-free zone in our highly mobile world.”
Despina Stavrinos, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who is studying distracted driving, says legislation alone will not solve the problem of distracted driving.
“We need to reach a point where distracted driving is perceived as wrong, in the same light as not wearing a seat belt or driving under the influence,” Stavrinos says in a news release. “Legislation and widespread education efforts may be the best strategy for combating the distracted driving epidemic.”