A game-changer: That's what this week's recommendation by the National Traffic Safety Board for a ban on all cellphone use and texting while driving has the potential to be. The proposal extends even to hands-free devices, with an exception only for safety-related devices such as GPS.
A spokesman for the Governors' Highway Association thinks it may be a game-changer because it could jump-start discussion in state legislatures on implementing such a ban.
It's true that 35 states already have various restrictions on texting while driving or cellphone use in vehicles. Despite these laws, however, the use of electronic devices behind the wheel has only kept increasing - by about 50 percent in the last year alone.
The result of such misplaced multitasking is far too many accidents, many of them fatal. Last year, over 3,000 people (3.092 to be exact) were killed in cell phone-related and other distracted driving accidents.
Does it make sense to seek a ban that includes hands-free devices? The research evidence so far suggests that even with hands free, using such devices is still distracted driving.
Still, the NTSB recommendation has a long way to go to become law in Massachusetts or other states. After all, no state currently bans the use of hands-free devices. So there will be political challenges into getting bans passed and administrative challenges in enforcing them.
What the NTSB is saying, however, is that these challenges are worth taking on. They are worth taking on because no text or update is worth a human life, as chairwoman Deborah Hersman said in announcing the NTSB recommendation.
Source: "NTSB pushes for nationwide ban on cellphone use for drivers," Washington Post, 12-14-11