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Ban Texting, Talking on Cell Phones While Driving, NTSB Tells States

Dec 14, 2011 | Parker Waichman LLP

Citing the terrible danger posed by distracted driving, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) voted unanimously yesterday to recommend that states institute near-total bans on the use of cell phones - including those employing hands-held technologies - while driving.  The proposal goes further than any current state law that regulates texting or other cell phone use while driving.

"No call, no text, no update, is worth a human life," NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said in a statement announcing the Board's proposal.

The NTSB wants all 50 states and the District of Columbia to ban the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices - with the exception of those that support the act of driving - for all drivers.  The states would have to pass such laws, as the NTSB lacks the authority to do so.

According to the Associated Press, Hersman acknowledged that complying would involve changing what has become ingrained behavior for many Americans.

"We're not here to win a popularity contest," she said.

The NTSB's call for the drastic measure came on the heels of its investigation of a fatal pile-up in Missouri last year that killed two passengers on a school bus.  The probe revealed that just prior to the accident, the teenaged driver of the pickup that started the chain-reaction crash had sent or received 11 text messages within 11 minutes.

According to a survey of more than 6,000 drivers by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, two out of 10 American drivers overall - and half of drivers between 21 and 24 - say they've read messages or emailed from the while driving.  According to the NTSB, more than 3,000 people lost their lives last year in distraction-related accidents.

Numerous studies have highlighted the danger that comes with cell phone use and driving.  A Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study of commercial drivers found that a safety-critical event is 163 times more likely if a driver is texting, e-mailing, or accessing the Internet, according to the NTSB.  Research from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) has found that simply listening to someone speak on the other end of a cell phone reduces by 37 percent the amount of brain activity associated with driving, compared to driving alone.  Another CMU study revealed that making cell phones hands-free or voice-activated is not sufficient in eliminating distraction to drivers.


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