NTSB calls for ban on all cellphone use while driving -- even hands-free phones

Kristin McGrath
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has called for an unprecedented nationwide ban on the use of personal electronic devices, like cellphones and smartphones, behind the wheel. The board's recommendation even takes aim at hands-free phones, which, traditionally, have been exempt from distracted driving laws.
"No call, no text, no update is worth a human life," NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said in a statement.
Drivers would still be able to use their phones to make emergency calls, according to an NTSB press release. They would also be able to use electronic devices that aid driving.
While the NTSB can't enact a nationwide ban itself, the board's recommendation calls on all 50 states and the District of Columbia to enact their own bans. Currently, state distracted driving laws vary. The strictest ones, like those in the District of Columbia and nine states, prohibit the use of hand-held phones, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. But no state bans all (hands-free and hand-held) cellphone use, meaning the NTSB's recommendation goes further than any state law.
The NTSB's call to action follows today's board meeting about an infamous multivehicle accident in 2010 in Grey Summit, Mo., that killed two and injured 38.
A tractor-trailer had slowed down in a construction zone. The driver of a pickup truck, who didn't notice the slower traffic ahead, crashed into the back of the tractor trailer. Two school buses then crashed into the truck. Two died as the result of the accident, and 38 others were injured.
The NTSB investigated the crash and found that the driver of the pickup truck had sent and received 11 text messages in the 11 minutes before the accident, according to the board. The last message was received just before the pickup hit the tractor-trailer.
As the use of mobile phones and other personal electronic devices has grown over the past two decades, so has distracted driving, according to the NTSB. Yet although the board is pushing for immediate action, the passage of state laws could take some time.
"The NTSB recommendation may be a game changer," Jonathan Adkins, communications director for the Governors Highway Safety Association, said in a statement. "States aren't ready to support a total ban yet but this may start the discussion."
The NTSB's announcement comes less than a month before another major cellphone ban goes into effect. On Jan 3, 2012, a federal rule issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation will prohibit all hand-held phone use by commercial drivers.

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