Conceding that it’s a little disconcerting that the National Transportation Safety Board would use a worst-case scenario to recommend a total ban on texting, emailing or talking on a cellphone — even hands-free devices — while driving, that’s not necessarily sufficient reason to reject the recommendation outright.
As the Associated Press reported Tuesday, the NTSB — an independent federal agency that investigates wrecks, crashes and other transportation incidents and conducts safety studies — is urging states to impose total bans on texting, emailing and talking via cellphone, except in emergencies, at least in part on the basis of multiple-vehicle collision last year in Missouri that killed two people and injured 38. One of the vehicles involved in the accident was a pickup truck driven by a 19-year-old who had sent and received 11 text messages in 11 minutes just prior to the wreck.
There have, however, also been a host of less noteworthy, though not less deadly, wrecks associated with distracted driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that in 2009, 995 people were killed in wrecks where use of a cellphone was reported as a distraction. That number represented almost 20 percent of the 5,474 people who were killed in collisions involving distracted driving, which can include activities other than cellphone usage, such as eating behind the wheel.
It may be natural to bristle at the thought of a federal agency recommending a sweeping action by states to institute a total ban on use of communication devices in vehicles. On that point, though, it’s useful to note that, as the Tuesday AP story reported, 35 states and Washington, D.C. have banned texting while driving, nine states and the District of Columbia prohibit handheld cellphone use, and 30 states ban cellphone use by new drivers.
In Georgia, all drivers are prohibited from sending or receiving text messages, and drivers under 18 are prohibited from all cellphone usage.
Thus, even prior to the NTSB recommendation, a majority of states recognized the potentially fatal consequences of communicating via cellphone while behind the wheel, although it should be noted that in Georgia, a bill that would have allowed use of only hands-free devices in vehicles went nowhere in this year’s legislative session.
So the NTSB recommendation, grating as it might be for some people, might be useful in terms of continuing discussion of the use of communications devices behind the wheel, to determine whether there are additional steps that states might want to take.
One possibility noted in the AP story is that the renewed focus on behind-the-wheel cellphone usage could prompt states with bans of one sort or another to do something as simple as take steps to more aggressively enforce those bans. And that, regardless of the fact that it might be prompted by the suggestion of a federal agency, is a good thing.