Distracted driving was linked to more than 3,000 deaths last year, according to estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Cell phone use was a primary culprit in many of those fatal car and truck accidents. The size of the problem has led the National Transportation Safety Board to recommend a nationwide ban on using personal electronic devices, including cell phones, in any capacity while driving.
Thirty-five states and Washington D.C. have already banned text messaging while driving, with several other states considering the legislation. While those new laws were passed with minimal dissent, this expanded ban could be significantly more controversial. Many older cell phone users do not rely on text messaging to communicate. The bans targeted a behavior that they never engaged in. By expanding it to include any cell phone use, the NTSB is taking on a much broader and more powerful demographic.
The NTSB is an independent agency. While it does not have the power to enact a ban on its own, it is considered the top federal safety advocate. It remains to be seen if it has enough clout to convince state and federal lawmakers to ban talking on a cell phone while driving. Even if the accident statistics make it clear that cell phones and driving do not mix, the cell phone industry and countless Americans will be reluctant to agree to an outright ban.
Cell phones have reached unprecedented levels of popularity in the U.S. Everywhere you go, you can see people talking, texting, playing games or surfing on the Internet on their smart phones. No device has ever achieved this level of popularity and acceptance. It is exactly the ability to occupy our interest that makes cell phones dangerous for drivers. As NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said, "No call, no text, no update, is worth a human life." For the families who are left to deal with the loss of a loved one, it can seem like a very small request to pay attention to the road, and not to our phones. The NTSB has decided the time is right to take that request and make it a law for everyone.
Source: The Washington Post, "NTSB pushes for nationwide ban on cellphone use for drivers," by Ashley Halsey III, 14 December 2011