Federal Agency Urges 50-State Ban on Driving While Using Cell Phones and Other Devices

Business Cell Phone Hands FreeIt’s likely that your company or organization already has a policy that discourages cell phone usage by employees while they’re driving during work hours. If the National Transportation Safety Board were to get its way, such corporate cell phone policies might become just the second line of defense against unsafe practices such as talking while driving and texting while driving.

The NTSB, an independent federal agency that investigates transportation accidents, advocates passage of state laws banning nearly all use of portable electronic devices (PEDs) by motorists – even devices that don’t necessarily require you to take your hands off the wheel or your eyes off of the road.

In December, the NTSB issued a recommendation urging all 50 states and the District of Columbia to pass laws barring motorists from using any kind of PED while operating a vehicle, except for emergency purposes. The recommendation was contained in a report on a fatal collision that occurred on Missouri highway one year earlier. The NTSB said that state laws should “ban the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices (other than those designed to support the driving task) for all drivers.”

While the NTSB didn’t explain in detail what kind of electronic devices it considered as “designed to support the driving task,” that phrase has been assumed to refer mainly to dedicated GPS units and possibly even to GPS-based maps and direction finding applications on other devices.  Also exempted would be the new generation of electronic auto technologies such as backup cameras, lane-departure warning signals and forward collision warning systems.

The NTSB report said the Missouri accident was caused in part by a young male pickup truck driver sending and receiving (and presumably reading) multiple text messages as he drove along I-44 approaching a road construction zone where a lane was closed. Although the incident involved hands-on use of a cell phone, many auto safety experts have long warned that even in hands-free mode electronic devices divert too much of a driver’s attention away from the road.

Over the last decade, the NTSB has investigated numerous accidents in which distractions from electronic devices such as cell phones and laptop computers played a part, although the incidents cited by the agency include modes of transportation other than cars and trucks, such as boats, planes and trains.

But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation, says that more than 3,000 people died in distraction-related motor vehicle accidents in 2010, or roughly 10 percent of all U.S. motor vehicle fatalities for the year.

The NTSB, NHTSA and other safety groups are concerned that as the number of mobile devices increases and their use becomes an increasingly integral part of everyday life, the number of deaths and injuries resulting from their use will greatly increase. For instance, The NTSB held an “attentive driving forum” on March 27 at its headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Current policies regarding use of electronic devices while driving vary widely from state to state. For instance, a Pennsylvania law went into effect March 8 that outlaws texting while driving, but 15 states still lack such a ban. New York and Nevada have outlawed texting as well as all handheld cell phone use. So far no state has prohibited, hands-free phone calls for motorists, but the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois, is currently considering a municipal ban.

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