According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), “distracted driving is becoming the new DUI; it’s becoming an epidemic.”
And in order to combat this, they are recommending a nationwide ban on cellphone use while driving. This would include text messaging (which is already banned in many states), standard phone calls, and any other activity non-required of drivers like Facebook and Twitter updates. The NTSB was vague when it came to things like maps and GPS use on cellphones. The recommended ban also includes hands-free devices, unless they are part of a factory-installed system.
In a statement, NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman quoted some National Highway Traffic Safety Administration figures like ‘at any given moment, 13.5 million drivers are talking on cell phones’ and ‘3,092 deaths on the roads last year were attributed to distracted drivers.’
Of course, this is just a suggestion at this point. But the NTSB is pretty influential in enacting legislative changes.
“No call, no text, no update, is worth a human life,” Hersman said. “It is time for all of us to stand up for safety by turning off electronic devices when driving.”
Right now, only 9 U.S. states prohibit the use of hand-held devices to makes calls while driving. Washington D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands also have bans. No state or territory has an all-encompassing phone ban that includes hands-free devices as well. 35 states ban text messaging while driving, and 32 of those states have primary enforcement (drivers can be pulled over for that singular offense).
CTIA – The Wireless Association issued a release standing behind the recommendation, although saying that they defer to state and local lawmakers on the issue:
CTIA and the wireless industry agree that when drivers are behind the wheel, safety should be their number one priority. Manual texting while driving is clearly incompatible with safety, which is why we have historically supported a ban on texting while 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.
A Carnegie Mellon University neuroscientist who studies the issue at hand has also released a statement in support of the ban:
Banning the use of cell phones by drivers in non-emergency situations could be another dramatic step forward in further reducing the unacceptably high levels of driving-related fatalities in the U.S., which is most recently at about 33,000 people killed annually,” Just said. “While recent improvements in automobile safety equipment have made an enormous contribution, it remains to make improvements in the most important factor, driver performance, and to save thousands of additional lives per year. We are our own worst enemy.
This whole thing is sure to spur debates about governmental regulation, and whether the ban would go a little too far. There’s no doubt that talking on a cell phone can distract a driver. But what’s next? A nationwide ban on smoking while driving or eating fries while driving? All I can say is if this thing somehow goes though – good luck with enforcement. And even if the enforcement logistics work out, I’d still say good luck getting people to stop making calls in their cars.