December 13, 2011
NTSB Calls For Nationwide Ban On Cellphone Use By Drivers
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has called for the first-ever national ban on the use of cellphones and other personal electronic devices by drivers.
The landmark recommendation comes following an investigation into an August 2010 four-vehicle crash in Missouri which resulted in two fatalities and 38 injuries, Bart Jansen of USA Today said.
The NTSB board ruled that the chain-reaction collision was caused when a 19-year-old pickup truck driver named Daniel Schatz, who was one of those killed in the accident, "rammed the back of a tractor-trailer that had slowed for construction on Interstate 44 near Gray Summit," Jansen said, noting that Schatz had sent "11 text messages in the 11 minutes before the crash."
It was not immediately clear how far the NTSB suggestions would go.
According to CNN.com reports, the personal electronic device ban would "outlaw non-emergency phone calls and texting by operators of every vehicle on the road" but would not apply to hands-free devices or to passengers in a vehicle.
However, Jeff Plungis of BusinessWeek says that the ban would, in fact, include hands-free devices, while a NTSB press release states that the recommendations would prohibit "the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices (other than those designed to support the driving task) for all drivers."
"According to NHTSA [the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration], more than 3,000 people lost their lives last year in distraction-related accidents," Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said in a statement. "It is time for all of us to stand up for safety by turning off electronic devices when driving“¦ No call, no text, no update, is worth a human life."
"We will never know whether the driver was typing, reaching for the phone, or reading a text when his pickup ran into the truck in front of him without warning," Hersman also said, during her opening statement, according to Michael D. Bolden of the Washington Post. "But, we do know he had been distracted – cognitively, manually, and visually – while driving“¦ Driving was not his only priority."
"This is becoming the new DUI," NTSB member Robert Sumwalt added in an interview with Jansen. "It's becoming an epidemic."
According to Plungis, the regulation of cellphone use by drivers has also been a cause championed by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who reportedly believes that any use of mobile phones (including calls involving hands-free devices) and even some vehicle information and entertainment systems could also pose a danger. LaHood's efforts have helped lead to restrictions on electronic device use while operating a motor vehicle in 30 states, the BusinessWeek reporter added.
According to the NTSB, over the last two decades, there are 5.3 billion mobile phone subscribers, and they cite a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study of commercial drivers which discovered that "a safety-critical event is 163 times more likely if a driver is texting, e-mailing, or accessing the Internet."
Based on that data, Hersman says, "the time to act is now. How many more lives will be lost before we, as a society, change our attitudes about the deadliness of distractions?"
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