NTSB Wants Cell Phone Ban For Drivers

The National Transportation Board (NTSB), hoping to put an end to DWD (Driving While Distracted), voted unanimously today called for the first-ever nationwide ban on driver use of personal electronic devices (PEDs) while operating a motor vehicle. The safety recommendation specifically calls for the 50 states and the District of Columbia to ban the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices (other than those designed to support the driving task) for all drivers. The safety recommendation also urges use of the NHTSA model of high-visibility enforcement to support these bans and implementation of targeted communication campaigns to inform motorists of the new law and heightened enforcement.

“According to NHTSA, more than 3,000 people lost their lives last year in distraction-related accidents“, said 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 recommendation to ban use of personal electronic devices — smart phones, Ipods — while driving would also include banning the use of hands free phone devices.

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42 COMMENTS

  1. I listened to a report on NPR which said the statistical evidence is out there that hands-free cell phones result in a greater number of car accidents due to distraction. Curiously, chatting with a real live passenger does not pose the same risk: the theory being that the live passenger is another pair of eyes watching the road, assisting the driver.

    Having been hit by texting drivers three times in the last two years (two of which did considerable damage to my car,) and observing that the drivers who sit halfway thru green lights, who inch around turns without using their signals, and who sideswipe others on Route 3 are almost always on the phone, I’m all for a total ban, state vs. federal laws notwithstanding. Our “urgent conversations” just aren’t worth the carnage that everyone seems to think won’t happen to them.

    I’d extend it to cell phones in restaurants, on trains except within 5 minutes of a stop, in doctor’s offices, at Marshalls, at movie theaters and concerts, and so on. It’s a total scourge.
    As of this posting, it seems like a majority of B-net survey respondants agree.

  2. “More federal encroachment on state laws.”

    What encroachment? The NTSB has merely issued a recommendation, but it is up to the states to take legislative action. Isn’t that the frequent refrain from the right, that decisions should be left to the individual states (except, of course, when federal legislation best serves their agenda)?

    Not harboring the same “government is the problem” impulse, I would gladly welcome legislation at any and all levels of government that ban the use of all forms of mobile devices in automobiles.

    Or in other words, I would welcome government action that preserves my freedom from encroachment into my vehicle by reckless, chatting-and-texting drivers.

  3. and don’t get me started on those new fangled things called car radios! Who came up with that idea?! I just want dials & gauges in my cockpit. Fighter pilot mentality on NJ roads only.
    Check

  4. The problem, of course, is enforcement. The Feds have no traffic cops out there, so they can’t do it. New York and New Jersey both have strict no cell/text while driving, and I wonder how often they look the other way. There are other criminal activities that might have priority in their scheme of things, too. The answer may be the insurance companies or the phone service providers, or some combination of both. They know where you are, what time it is, and what your device is up to. Get busted and watch your insurance go through the roof…

  5. Paz, I recently replaced my car radio with a string quartet. It is a lot less distracting because I no longer feel the need to be caller 57 on the morning show to win two tickets to someone I don’t want to see anyway. It is a bit more expensive, and I occasionally have to adjudicate arguments over who is better, Brahms or Schuman, but in the end, it is safer all around.

  6. Well said, Pork.

    Next, I favour federal legislation mandating that folks like ROC actually read the item before reflexively whining about nonsense like “federal encroachment”.

    Penalties must be severe.

  7. People whine and talk the talk but when it comes to them it’s ‘ I’m just doing it for a minute’, like idling.

    Seriously though.

    Back in the day before cells Herb mastered the art of driving while blasting the Flock of Seagulls, reading the NY Post and drinking coffee. To be honest, I’m just great driver and laws shouldn’t apply to me. I do believe it should be in place for others though. They should issue me one of those plate stickers permitting me to do whatever I please behind the wheel.

    We need to fight this one people because the next thing they’ll say is that you can’t drink and drive.

  8. I second what Kit said, except for Marshall’s. Really, though, seeing people making turns onto side-streets while chatting or sitting at green lights despite honking are the least of our problems with cell phones in cars. It’s the ultimate form of hubris to put your convenience before the safety of someone else.

    It’s checked my phone while sitting at a red light – especially on Grove when the train is passing, and I think that technically that would be off limits too. I’m willing to forgo that convenience if it helps keep those with even more loose limits on their behavior in check.

  9. My dear friend was killed by a texting teen, who also died in the head-on collision. She was 40 years old and had a beloved 6-year old daughter, as well as a husband and teenage stepchildren who had lost their own mother to cancer. She was an amazing person who did much good in the world. I am heartily in favor of enforcing the bans we already have, and increasing the penalties.

  10. What we have here is an enforcement issue. Take a spin through town and you’re guaranteed to see a number of drivers blithely chatting away on their non-hands-free devices.I see what Kristin mentions above frequently. I think the fine is around $100. Now, if I see so many people flaunting the existing law, it only stands to reason that police officers must see it as well. It is important for them to know that the community wants these laws enforced.

    On another note, WSJ article today about the proliferation of electronic systems entertainment systems in vehicles, resultant driver distraction, and industry response, “enlarge the font size.” I’m not a Luddite, but there’s a huge difference between turning on the radio or pushing a button on the CD player, and scrolling through several computer screen menus to find the optimal audio experience.

    Not long ago it was hard to find a cup holder in a high end German car, because the engineers thought drivers should concentrate on driving. We’ve come a long way.

  11. I will continue to support a technological answer to this- one that only allows 911 calls. Period.

    As for encroachment, for the most part, so long as the State takes Fed Highway money, the Fed can make rules– hence the national speed limit.

    But here, I don’t even care about encroachment, if it makes it easier, each State should ban ’em. Period.

    Most folks who have done it have had the ugly moment when they realize– JEEZ, I ALMOST HIT THAT car/person… Be honest. How many have just “checked” that text and found yourselves moments away from horror?

    I have. Which is why I pull over if a call/text is important. Every time.

    But like a drunk driver, I cannot protect myself and family from you and your bad choices. So, give me a technical answer.

    If they can insure that my commercials will no longer be louder than my TV shows, they can figure this one out. (https://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203430404577096423925179912.html)

  12. If even one life is saved, it’s all worth it. Apparently, people cannot police themselves when it comes to this matter so this is what has to happen. I don’t like the federal encroachment, either, but as it stands now, I don’t see another way around it. Phone conversations and/or texting and driving is a deadly combination.

  13. We need to fight this one people because the next thing they’ll say is that you can’t drink and drive.

    Herb, you’re no fun anymore. Too reasonable.

  14. I am against any research on any subject that could result in any information that could conceivably lead to any decision by any branch of the government that might possibly encroach on my freedom to choose whatever.

  15. deadeye-

    your cup holder example is so true. I recall years back that parents were flipping out because their little one’s wanted access to AOL instant messaging and they were concerned what was being sent back and forth and to whom. It was all parents talked about when my kids were young.
    Cut a few years later and the same parents were flocking to buy their kids personal cell phones with unlimited texting.

    We have come a long way.

  16. I’ve been guilty of talking on my cell without being hands free, texting while driving even though that’s far more difficult, and driving without a seat belt. Not one of those conversations were all that important. Like most other stupid human behavior the laws that exist didn’t prevent me from risking my own and others lives.

  17. It’s not just phones and texting they seek to ban.

    from the report:

    “(1) Ban the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices (other than those designed to support the driving task) for all drivers; (2) use the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration model of high visibility enforcement to support these bans; and ”

    GPS? MP3 players?

    The proposed ban is based on ONE accident. No studies are cited.

  18. I was in traffic court last year (computer snafu using online registration renewal: exonerated). While there, I witnessed a conga line of “no left turn” violators, red light runners, stop sign rollers, crosswalk violators (no jay walkers though), several cell phone conversationalists, and surprisingly one fellow who was cited for using a GPS device. I guess they have voice activation now, but trying to input directions while driving, especially when you’re lost and frustrated, is obviously a huge distraction.

    A couple of years ago a young girl in a little sardine can of a car pulled onto the Merritt Parkway while chatting away on her mobile. She pulled directly into the path of about 5 or 6 cars that all nailed the brakes and swerved wildly while avoiding, miraculously, killing her or each other. One of the stupidest, scariest things I’ve ever seen.

    Then there was the kid on Rt.3 during the morning commute that bounced off of the median directly in front of our car. As we passed him, I could see he was scared to death, but still holding his cell phone.

  19. You don’t need studies to tell you that while “operating heavy machinery,” you need to be focused on the task at hand. Driving is challenging enough: watching out for pedestrians darting out into the middle of the street, people cutting you off (speeding up so that they may sit at the red light ahead of you–my favorite), having to stop short for a kid’s ball or animal–why add tech gadgets into the mix? The German engineers of old had it right: Concentrate on your driving while in the car. If you so desperately need to make or take a call or fiddle with your iPod or CD player, pull over.

  20. Radio? Cup Holder? Talking to passenger?

    How is a handsfree voice called phone call different from talking to a passenger?

  21. “(1) Ban the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices (other than those designed to support the driving task) for all drivers…”

    Does Alec Baldwin know anout this? Boy, is he going to be ticked off!

  22. Eating in the car, sure, especially if you drop stuff all over your clothes while driving. Not sure how being 70 or older is a distraction. As for their driving skills, I think it would depend on the particular 70-year-old.

  23. Smoking weed should be banned while driving, too. Wish I had a dime (no pun intended) for everytime I pulled to red light and saw one of my fellow Baristavillians toking on a J.

  24. deadeye, stay away from Boston if this kind of stuff freaks you out. One morning, during stop-and-go traffic on Route 128 I was passed by a guy in a Saab who was 1) going about 40 (to our 25 or so), 2) driving in the breakdown lane (which is legal on some parts of some roads), 3) talking on a hand-held telephone, 4) reading from a document he had propped up on his steering wheel, and 5) smoking a cigarette. And, I am sure, his coffee thermos was not far away. Multi-tasking at its most creative…

  25. ALL phone use while driving is totally banned in Germany & Portugal, according to today’s Times. Makes sense with the Autobahn.

    And Roc, I do seem to recall some discussion of making it illegal to eat & drive.

  26. It should be my right to text and drink while driving. Especially if I’m also streaming and watching video. After all it’s my car!

  27. Bebop, Check me on this, but I think weed smoking is illegal while driving. I guess that’s why they don’t sell those bowls with the two hoses attached that you could stick to your dash with a suction cup anymore. So is drinking alchohol. Used to be in VT that you could drive with a drink in your hand as long as it was not your intention to become intoxicated, only a few years ago. They used to have drive-through Margarita places in TX!! Arguably we’re all safer now. Personally, I’ve given up eating soup behind the wheel!

  28. “How is a handsfree voice called phone call different from talking to a passenger?”

    I recall one or more studies that suggested that a hands-free voice conversation can be more distracting because the other party cannot pickup on the non-verbal cues that would force a pause in the conversation to allow the driver to concentrate on the road in the way that a person physically present in the vehicle would be able to do.

    This is not to say that conversations with passengers in the vehicle cannot also be dangerously distracting. However, unless one is driving a bus, there is a finite limit to the number of people whom you can accommodate in your car, while mobile phone technology now creates the opportunity for the driver to be continuously distracted by a large cast of chat-mates.

    Yet ROC, you seem to be tossing out another straw man as you seem wont to do, by asking, “well, what about talking to people in the car? what about old people?” Of course, we cannot regulate conversations within the car, and the question about older drivers is a separate debate unto itself. And yes, I am sure we can identify many potentially distracting activities that people engage in behind the wheel, such as eating – although I am sure we can both agree that most people are not talking to their food.

    But all this does not negate the fact that accidents and fatalities from distracted driving arising from mobile technology are on the rise, and government has a proper role in ensuring the safety of the public against those who place their perceived right to chat and text whenever they damn well please above their obligation to operate their motor vehicles in a safe and responsible manner.

  29. HEY I know you all were waiting for me to chime in here, knowing this is my FAVE-or-ite subject!

    As much as I hate the nanny state, this is a no-brainer. However I am with Prof, in that they should devise a way to disable a cell phone in a moving car. (and be smart enough not to disable the passenger’s phones.)

    (Or, you could go ahead and disable everyone’s … this would also work nicely on the train or bus – no more quiet cars needed! Although that is probably too extreme…)

    Anyway, the problem is, there are already too many UNENFORCED laws that should be enforced more aggressively, but for lack of resources, etc etc., they are not. People think the rules are merely suggestions. They roll thru a stop sign (or don’t even slow down). They don’t yield when entering the highway. They cut people off at the exit ramp. Would they do that in line at the Shop Rite? Are they immortal??

    There’s a reason for most of these rules – so you don’t KILL someone! Don’t they know that one day, karma will come around and they will run thru a stop sign only to get creamed by an 18-wheeler?

    (They should put a gate at every stop sign and a red light camera at every signal. That’d learn ’em!)

    So since the object is to protect the innocent from people who insist on cell phone talking or texting while driving, I am ALL FOR IT.

    Now, the nanny-helmet law for grownups? Well – if you want to break open your own skull in a motorcycle accident, that’s on you. A bare-headed Harley rider is not going to kill someone simply because he/she is not wearing a helmet.

    However, if the long-haul trucker is blabbing on his phone while tailgating on the turnpike, he is infinitely more likely to kill someone.

    Personally, I find it difficult to concentrate on any conversation while driving in NJ, whether or not it’s on my bluetooth or with someone in the car. There is just too much craziness on the road that warrants my attention. You can just tell when people are distracted. Speed up, slow down, meander amongst lanes, blithely turn without signaling, running the stop sign (since they really have no idea who got there first). It’s so obvious to me. And their driving skills stink to high heaven: Can someone tell me what driving school teaches you that it’s OK to make a left turn from the right lane, when it’s not marked as such??

    Someone just told me that all a kid needs to get a permit at 16 is SIX hours of behind the wheel training. SIX lousy hours. Then they get six or twelve months of behind the wheel training with their poorly-trained parent. It is a vicious circle. I said this before – bad drivers beget bad drivers!

    I recently went on a field trip with some co-workers and the driver insisted on turning her head to talk to me in the passenger seat, or raising herself up in the driver’s seat (by pulling on the steering wheel – ok she’s kind of short!) so she could look at the gal in the back seat while talking. She was taking her eyes off the road too often, too long, IMHO. (next time, I’ll drive.)

  30. POSTED BY jerseygurl | DECEMBER 14, 2011 @ 12:14 PM
    “It should be my right to text and drink while driving. Especially if I’m also streaming and watching video. After all it’s my car!”

    AMEN, JG. I’d like to add, “since it is MY car ( and not some welfare queen ) I also am entitled to a loaded gun, a Bible, and an audio version of Atlas Shrugged”.

  31. Our gov’t is trying to treat us like 5 year olds. Soon we’re gonna need a permit to cross the street- or be required to walk around covered in bubble packing. There’s a (not too) fine line between keeping the general public safe and fascism.

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