Safety agency calls for total driver cellphone ban

A federal agency has urged state legislatures to introduce a flat-out ban on any cellphone use by drivers, except in genuine emergencies.

Previous proposals at both state and federal level have varied in scope, with some states banning texting or handheld use of phones by drivers. Now the National Transportation Safety Board is going a step further and arguing that it’s time for a total ban on any use, even with hands-free equipment or wireless headsets.

Although the board said it was taking into account a decade of studies, the specific recommendation came in response to a report into a Missouri pile-up last August involving two trucks and two buses that killed two people and injured another 35. Officials believe the accident was caused by a driver being distracted after exchanging 11 text messages in the minutes leading up to the crash.

The NTSB says that not only should states ban drivers from using any portable electronic devices other than “those designed to support the driving task” (ie GPS), but that states should use “high visibility enforcement” and launch publicity campaigns.

The enforcement is a particularly relevant issue in the Missouri case: the state does ban those under 21 from texting while driving, so the 19-year-old driver was already breaking the law. That said, even while police watching out for people using phones is a difficult task, it’s harder if they have to guess how old people are: a person who might be flattered to be asked for ID when buying alcohol probably wouldn’t be so happy being pulled over.

The board has also asked phone manufacturers to consider putting blocks on phone when they are within reach of a driver and the vehicle is in motion, though with an override for emergencies. It didn’t go into detail about how it actually expected this to work.

The New York Times gives a frank assessment of the politics behind the recommendation: no state is forced to take any notice and many won’t. However, those that do consider bans will be able to cite the recommendation, particularly as this is the first time there’s been such official backing for a complete ban.

At the moment 35 states (plus DC) ban texting, while nine (plus DC) ban all handheld use. None have bans on hands-free use: an association bringing together traffic agencies across the states says that likely won’t change any time soon, but will now be a more serious topic for debate.


9 Responses to Safety agency calls for total driver cellphone ban

  1. There's been a ban on mobile phones while driving in the UK for years now. If you want to use your phone you have to use it with a hands-free kit.

    • As the article says, there are nine states which ban handheld use. I live in one of those states. So long as you have a hands-free device, you can still talk on your phone.

      The new proposal is trying to say that there should be zero cell phone use on the road, no matter if you have a hands-free device.

      Which is silly, because they might as well just ban having passengers in the frakking car, too. I mean, when I'm on my hands-free, I'm still staring at the road, and only partially listening to whoever I'm on the phone with. When I have people in my car, I'm only partially attentive to the road, and I glance at whoever's talking to give them more of my attention.

      The whole thing is just ridiculous. Accidents are caused by any number of unsafe driving habits. Playing with the radio, eating while driving, spilling hot coffee–are they going to ban every single one of them?

      And don't even get me started on enforceability of a total ban. Like I said, I live in a state that is hands-free only, but you still see people driving around, holding their cell phones. I even once passed a woman who'd been pulled over for speeding. I watched in my review mirror as the cop got back into his car, the woman pulled into traffic, and less than thirty seconds later, she had passed me (speeding again), and was crying, screaming on her damn phone. The cop was still filling out his report on the side of the highway.

      • my state just did a reach around on it and made a law against "distracted driving" so as to cover talking on the phone, texting, eating, listening to the radio or whatever the cop decides at that moment was distracting the driver. Not sure how well it will hold up in the end, though.

  2. So (if this goes through) calls and texting would be out, GPS would be OK…

    That seems to leave a lot of questions. It would seem that a radio/cassette/CD player would be a "Personal Electronic Device." I have an MP3 player that I plug in to an FM transmitter so I can listen to my music in my car through the stereo system. That would seem to be a "personal electronic device". Or are music devices exempt like GPS? (I for one have a hard time driving any length of time without music going in the background, so for me that would "support the driving task".)

    And this is the era of smartphones, which can not only make phone calls and send/receive texts, but can also play music and operate as GPS devices. Am I going to get ticketed for using my phone as a GPS?

    And what happens if I'm using my phone as a GPS and someone texts me? Even if I don't reply, I could still get ticketed for reading a text while driving.

    And I definitely don't like the idea of automatically blocking cell phone use when the vehicle is in motion. Passengers should be free to talk, text, etc., even if the driver cannot. Not to mention the fact that my smartphone (like many others, I'm sure) needs internet access to download the map information for the GPS navigation function to work properly.

    There is just way too many holes in this plan for it to be effective.

  3. What a waste of resources and time. Every state already has a provision for distracted and generally bad driving; however enforcing that might mean ticketing people shaving, applying makeup and beating up on old people who can't handle a car and we can't have that now can we.

  4. I'm completely ok with a total ban on any and all cellphone use in a moving vehicle as a victim of someone talking on a cellphone while they were driving.

    • Yes, I agree and while we are at it I would like to cut down all trees, as I once fell out of one and broke my arm. Additionally, we should pad all hard surfaces.

  5. It is interesting to me that the cellphone is being blamed for all of this, when only a single driver involved was texting. I can't help but think if the bus drivers had been following at safe distances that when traffic stopped and the pickup hit the truck in front of it, the buses might have been able to stop, but they weren't and just piled in to the accident.

    There was a lot more to this accident than someone texting on their phone, but in typical government fashion a complicated situation is being boiled down to a single reason for why it happened even though there was not just a single reason why it happened.

    That said I just fail to understand people who seem to think they need to be on their phone constantly while driving. What exactly is so important that you have to be on your phone the whole time you are in the car? Usually the people you see doing it are soccer moms in minivans, not executive looking types in luxury cars. I don't talk on my phone when driving unless it is absolutely necessary. Too easy to get distracted and lose track of what you are doing.

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