Federal board calls for ban on cellphones while driving

Associated PressDecember 14, 2011 

— Texting, emailing or using a cellphone while driving is simply too dangerous to be allowed anywhere, federal safety investigators declared Tuesday, recommending that all states impose a total ban 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.

Board chairman Deborah Hersman acknowledged the recommendation would be unpopular with many people and that complying would involve 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.

"No email, no text, no update, no call is worth a human life," Hersman said.

Currently, 35 states ban texting while driving and some bar cellphone use or emailing with hand-held devices. But enforcement is generally not a high priority, and no states ban the use of hands-free devices.

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 driving a pickup sent and received a flurry of texts 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 Chatsworth, Calif., that killed 25 people in which the engineer was texting; 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.

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