published Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

No cellphones, no texting by drivers, U.S. urges

  • photo
    A rescue worker is seen at the scene of an accident involving two school buses, a tractor-trailer and another passenger vehicle near Gray Summit, Mo., in August 2010. Federal safety investigators say a 19-year-old driver was texting at the time his pickup truck, two school buses and other vehicles collided in a deadly pileup on an interstate highway in Missouri last year.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Should all cellphone use by drivers be banned?


Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Texting, emailing or chatting on a cellphone while driving is simply too dangerous to be allowed, federal safety investigators declared Tuesday, urging all states to impose total bans except for emergencies.

Inspired by recent deadly crashes — including one in which a teenager sent or received 11 text messages in 11 minutes before an accident — the recommendation would apply even to hands-free devices, a much stricter rule than any current state law.

The unanimous recommendation by the five-member National Transportation Safety Board would make an exception for devices deemed to aid driver safety such as GPS navigation systems

A group representing state highway safety offices called the recommendation “a game-changer.”

“States aren’t ready to support a total ban yet, but this may start the discussion,” Jonathan Adkins, a spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, said.

NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman acknowledged the recommendation would be unpopular with many people and that complying would involve changing what has become ingrained behavior for many Americans.

While the NTSB doesn’t have the power to impose restrictions, its recommendations carry significant weight with federal regulators and congressional and state lawmakers. Another recommendation issued Tuesday urges states to aggressively enforce current bans on text messaging and the use of cellphones and other portable electronic devices while driving.

“We’re not here to win a popularity contest,” she said. “No email, no text, no update, no call is worth a human life.”

Currently, 35 states and the District of Columbia ban texting while driving, while nine states and D.C. bar hand-held cellphone use. Thirty states ban all cellphone use for beginning drivers. But enforcement is generally not a high priority, and no states ban the use of hands-free devices for all drivers.

A total cellphone ban would be the hardest to accept for many people.

Leila Noelliste, 26, a Chicago blogger and business owner, said being able to talk on the cellphone “when I’m running around town” is important to self-employed people like herself.

“I don’t think they should ban cellphones because I don’t think you’re really distracted when you’re talking, it’s when you’re texting,” she said. When you’re driving and talking, “your eyes are still on the road.”

The immediate impetus for the recommendation of state bans was a deadly highway pileup near Gray Summit, Mo., last year in which a 19-year-old pickup driver sent and received 11 texts in 11 minutes just before the accident.

NTSB investigators said they are seeing increasing texting, cellphone calls and other distracting behavior by drivers in accidents involving all kinds of transportation. It has become routine to immediately request the preservation of cellphone and texting records when an investigation is begun.

In the past few years the board has investigated a train collision in which the engineer was texting that killed 25 people in Chatsworth, Calif.; a fatal accident on the Delaware River near Philadelphia in which a tugboat pilot was talking on his cellphone and using a laptop computer, and a Northwest Airlines flight that sped more than 100 miles past its destination because both pilots were working on their laptops.

Last year, a driver was dialing his cellphone when his truck crossed a highway median near Munford, Ind., and collided with a 15-passenger van. Eleven people were killed.

The board said the initial collision in the Missouri accident was caused by the inattention of the pickup driver who was texting a friend about events of the previous night. The pickup, traveling at 55 mph, hit the back of a tractor truck that had slowed for highway construction. The pickup was rear-ended by a school bus that overrode the smaller vehicle. A second school bus rammed into the back of the first bus.

Do you regularly use or look at your cell phone while driving?

The pickup driver and a 15-year-old student on one of the buses were killed. Thirty-eight other people were injured. About 50 students, mostly members of a high school band from St. James, Mo., were on the buses heading to the Six Flags St. Louis amusement park.

Missouri had a law banning drivers under 21 years old from texting while driving at the time of the crash, but wasn’t aggressively enforcing the ban, board member Robert Sumwalt said.

“Without the enforcement, the laws don’t mean a whole lot,” he said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported earlier this year that pilot projects in Syracuse, N.Y., and Hartford, Conn., produced significant reductions in distracted driving by combining stepped-up ticketing with high-profile public education campaigns.

Before and after each enforcement wave, NHTSA researchers observed cellphone use by drivers and conducted surveys at drivers’ license offices in the two cities. They found that in Syracuse, hand-held cellphone use and texting declined by a third. In Hartford, there was a 57 percent drop in hand-held phone use, and texting behind the wheel dropped by nearly three-quarters.

However, that was with blanket enforcement by police.

The board’s decision to include hands-free cellphone use in its recommendation is likely to prove especially controversial. No states currently ban hand-free use although many studies show that it is often as unsafe as hand-held phone use because drivers’ minds are on their conversations rather than what’s happening on the road.

Hersman pointed to an Alexandria, Va., accident the board investigated in which a bus driver talking on a hands-free phone ran into a bridge despite his being familiar with the route and the presence of warning signs that the arch was too low for his bus to clear. The roof of the bus was sheared off.

The board has previously recommended bans on texting and cellphone use by commercial truck and bus drivers and beginning drivers, but it had stopped short of calling for a ban on the use of the devices by adults behind the wheel of passenger cars.

The problem of texting while driving is getting worse despite a rush by states to ban the practice, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said last week. In November, Pennsylvania became the 35th state to forbid texting while driving.

About two out of 10 American drivers overall — and half of drivers between 21 and 24 — say they’ve thumbed messages or emailed from the driver’s seat, according to a survey of more than 6,000 drivers by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

However, the survey found that many drivers don’t think it’s dangerous when they do it — only when others do.

At any given moment last year on America’s streets and highways, nearly one in every 100 car drivers was texting, emailing, surfing the Web or otherwise using a hand-held electronic device, the safety administration said. Those activities were up 50 percent over the previous year.

Driver distraction wasn’t the only significant safety problem uncovered by NTSB’s investigation of the Missouri accident. Investigators said they believe the pickup driver was suffering from fatigue that may have eroded his judgment. He had an average of about five and a half hours of sleep a night in the days leading up to the accident and had had fewer than five hours of sleep the night before the accident, they said.

The pickup driver had no history of accidents or traffic violations, investigators said.

Investigators also found significant problems with the brakes of both school buses involved in the accident. A third school bus sent to a hospital after the accident to pick up students crashed in the hospital parking lot when that bus’ brakes failed.

However, the brake problems didn’t cause or contribute to the severity of the accident, investigators said.

Another issue involved the difficulty passengers had getting out of the first school bus after the accident. Its doors were unusable and passengers had to exit through an emergency window. The raised latch on the window kept catching on clothing as students tried to escape, investigators said. Escape was further slowed because the window design required one person to hold the window up in order for a second person to crawl through, they said.

It was critical for passengers to leave as quickly as possible because a large amount of fuel underneath the bus was a serious fire hazard, investigators said.

“It could have been a much worse situation if there was a fire,” Donald Karol, the NTSB’s highway safety director, said.

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rolando said...

It's like the stupid seatbelt are you going to enforce it and still pay lip service to freedom of speech? Cut all cell phones off the instant the car starts? Outlaw cellphones altogether? [Not a bad idea, that one.]

Just another unenforceable law cluttering up the books.

Interesting to see I am reading tomorrow's news today...

December 13, 2011 at 6:57 p.m.
cannonball said...

I think not using a cell phone while driving makes good sense. I just don't like the idea of the government telling me what i can do and what i can't do. Another example og government too big and out of control. Whats next? can't drive in the rain?

December 14, 2011 at 6:48 a.m.
LibDem said...

Remember the bad old days when a person could drive from A to B without making or receiving a phone call? How did we survive?

December 14, 2011 at 7:09 a.m.
KWVeteran said...

"complying would involve changing what has become ingrained behavior for many Americans." Perhaps the liberals can be exempted.

December 14, 2011 at 7:25 a.m.

Enforcing the law on cell phones would be as easy as enforcing the seat belt law. If an officer sees you on the cell while phone while driving then they could pull you over. The same as they do now if they see you not wearing a seat belt. I also think when an automobile accident occurs if a person has a cell phone it should be checked to see if it was being used at the time and if so charges should be upgraded as well. JMO

December 14, 2011 at 7:36 a.m.
sage1 said...

"the recommendation would apply even to hands-free devices, a much stricter rule than any current state law."

Maybe we should also prosecute any driver that speaks to a passenger while driving? Or better yet, pass a law that all drivers must be muzzled so they cannot speak while driving?

I can see how holding a cell phone can distract a driver, but a hands free device to me is no different than talking to a passenger.

December 14, 2011 at 7:53 a.m.
j17davis said...

This is ridiculous, it's always nice to see how the government tries to force states to act as they see fit. Talking on the phone while driving is dangerous if you ARE NOT using a hands-free device, texting is dangerous too. The comment about the bad old days, how did we get from point A to point B, I agree we don't need them as much as we think we do, but even so I don't believe the government should be allowed to tell me I can't use a hand's free.

December 14, 2011 at 8:05 a.m.
Chatt88 said...

Are they going to pull you over and ask if the call you appeared to be making was an emergency call? It's not like they're gonna hit redial and ask the person you'd been talking to what it was you were talking about...

@sage1: Oftentimes talking to a passenger is more dangerous for some people than talking on a hands-free device OR a cell.. Some people just HAVE to look at the person they're talking to all the time. I hate being the passenger in a car where the person keeps looking at me to talk, rather than watching the road.

December 14, 2011 at 8:07 a.m.
RetiredMarshal said...

Talking on a cell is one thing but texting is another.when you talk on a cell why'll driving your eyes are on the road other than calling the number but when your texting your eyes are focused on what your typing.they do make had fee devises that you can buy,also I have a hands free in my pick-up that is built in.all you have to do is say the persons name and it dails it for ya.then again why text when you can call the person.I really think alot of this is directed to the younger people more then the adults.theres other staes that have the cell phone law and there accidents and death toll has dropped.

December 14, 2011 at 8:15 a.m.
ex_army65 said...

For the record, the 19 year old hit the back of the tractor trailer on the highway while they were waiting for construction. Damage to the truck but noone killed. Then the bus plowed into the back of him and after that another bus plowed into the back of the first bus pushing him under the tractor trailer and killing him. I think more responsibility was for the bus driver following too closely with a bus load of kids. the 11 texts in 11 minutes had little to do with what happened after.

December 14, 2011 at 8:25 a.m.
Chatt88 said...

I don't know that it's directed at younger people moreso than adults. Most teens/early 20s can text without even looking at their phone. Many of their parents have a harder time with texting and would surely be the ones having to look at the screen to text.

But just in regards to talking on the phone, I think it may even out for how bad some people can be when talking on the phone. Yesterday this dude was swerving a bit on 27 and we thought he was drunk, but then saw he had an earpiece in and was also looking at his phone ...

December 14, 2011 at 8:50 a.m.
hcirehttae said...

"I just don't like the idea of the government telling me what i can do and what i can't do."

In one wording or another, the above sentiment is repeated in these comments. I respect the conservative, libertarian viewpoint a great deal, except when the issue endangers someone else's life or property, as it clearly does in these cases. This is not the same as a motorcycle helmet law; you don't endanger others by not wearing a motorcycle helmet, except by the most strained logic. (I believe true conservatives would agree with me here. I'm sure they'll weigh in for themselves.)

Psychological studies have shown (and common sense would indicate) that talking to someone on a hands-free device while driving creates greater distraction than having a casual conversation with someone in the car. You're generating the call or responding to it, discussing a topic that's unrelated to the here-and-now, and accessing a greater diversity of brain functions. Sure, you could do sudoku or play jeopardy or take the SAT while driving if a computer was asking you for the answers, but what does common sense say about the safety of that?

December 14, 2011 at 10:06 a.m.
dao1980 said...

Those unable to operate any kind of machine or device with the skill and situational awareness required for safe travel will always make poor decisions.

More laws blanketing the landscape with the intended function of preventing stupid people from doing stupid things will only serve to further demoralize our police forces with unreasonable additions to the already un-accomplishable charge of protecting us from ourselves.

December 14, 2011 at 10:41 a.m.
LibDem said...

The restrictions on hands-free devices will be a hard sell, but I understand that they are trying to reduce distractions. I'd like to have a mute button installed on my wife.

December 14, 2011 at 11:09 a.m.
solomon11 said...

The original statement from the NHTSA said they wanted to ban all electronic communication devices except GPS units. That would mean that truck drivers could not use their CB radios and emergency response personnel couldn't communicate with their dispatchers. I think they need to rethink this recommendation. I agree with banning texting. I even agree with banning hand held communications but a hands free device is no different than having a person in the car talking to you while you are driving. Are they going to ban all verbal communication in the car because the driver might get distracted. That would mean I can't drive my four year old around anymore. He never shuts up!

December 14, 2011 at 1:45 p.m.
RetiredMarshal said...

@soloman"the exception of the rules noted by the NTSB excludes CB radios but does include cell phone use to truck drivers. Anyway you look at this its gonna be a hard bill to get passed.there are other staes that ban cell phone use but CB radios arent classifyed that way.Just like radar detectors are banned in different states and you can bet people have found away around them to.

December 14, 2011 at 2:07 p.m.
vaughn15 said...

First of all, you can't cure stupid. Why would anyone with an iota of common sense text while driving anyway. As for handsfree calls, I do this all the time but not to chat, only to keep in contact w/hubby and family but we state what we need and get off. Endless chatting on a phone while driving obviously is very distracting. All of us who honor other drivers should not be punished by people who just don't give a flying rats arse.

December 14, 2011 at 2:55 p.m.
hcirehttae said...

Aren't all laws intended to prevent stupid people from doing stupid things? (or dishonest people from doing dishonest things, etc.) Or is it really more accurate and true to say that people aren't just "stupid" or "smart" except situationally? I believe laws do persuade people to identify and follow proper guidelines of conduct, and I believe such laws are necessary, even if they're hard to enforce. If everyone automatically or inherently pursued enlightened self interest, we could live free from laws and just do what's right, but I haven't run into Socrates or Diogenes driving around Chattanooga lately with their cell phones primly turned off. Quite the contrary! If you and I see our self interests differently or assign differing degrees of importance to certain behaviors, we have to have a mediator, and that is government. Also, we have to protect the defenseless or less capable in our society, such as the parent who refuses to teach a child to buckle a seatbelt, when the child is incapable of weighing the significance of the consequences. Basically, lots of laws are "unenforceable" unless someone is caught red-handed, but if a texting driver causes a fatal accident, that is surely a situation that the law needs to speak to, and it certainly is "enforceable."

December 14, 2011 at 5 p.m.
dao1980 said...

I understand and appreciate your point hcirehttae.

My concern is that we already rely much to often on laws to preserve what we should take personal responsibility over in our personal lives.

Many laws are necessities and I don't intend to imply that anarchy would be a better place to live.

It is true as well, that poor choices in our personal lives can, and often do affect the personal lives of others.

I however, have found that a certain amount of inherent danger in life prompts us appropriately to pay closer attention to our situational surrounding.

The new car that makes it safer to fall asleep at the wheel.. will only allow more folks a false sense of security whilst happily falling asleep at the wheel...

I believe strongly that an ounce of personal responsibility will make for a much higher quality of life than ten thousand gallons of nanny state "for your own good" legal posturing.

Of course then there is always the trump card that "stupid" (not a person, but a state of mind) will prevail over and above any insistent guidance, and said "stupid" will be kept quite healthy by nanny state's insistent guidance.

Also, correct me if I misunderstand this story, but the texting driver caused a minor accident by plowing into a highway hauler... correct? Then was killed in a major accident caused by the school bus that plowed over him and his truck.

Now, if the school bus was unable to stop due to excessive speed while following too closely... why aren't we up in arms over irresponsible driving in general??

December 14, 2011 at 5:46 p.m.
ceeweed said...

The smart phone zombies are up in arms!

December 14, 2011 at 9:30 p.m.
hcirehttae said...

@dao1980 - Your logic and overall point are irrefutable. i enjoy reading such careful thought. Actually I for one am up in arms about irresponsible driving in general. Texting while driving is just such a new and growing menace (I use that word advisedly) that it's easy to focus on and identify. Lots of irresponsible driving takes place in momentary, isolated bursts, but if someone is texting for 10 minutes at a time, that's like being drunk behind the wheel for those 10 minutes. Also, I don't hear people so blithely defending their tailgating, speeding, improper passing. Seems like everyone has a reason why they have to text while driving, and they're exempt from the accusation of reckless driving because "it could never possibly happen to me."

December 15, 2011 at 7:28 a.m.

Harvard researchers calculated the costs associated with accidents caused by cell phones, such as medical bills and loss of life. The costs added up to an estimated $43 billion a year. Each person will have to determine the value of the life of their loved ones.

December 18, 2011 at 9:20 p.m.
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