The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB
) recently recommended
all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia enact laws banning drivers from all forms of cell phone use, including hands-free use. Prior to the NTSB’s recommendation, 35 states and Washington, D.C., already enacted laws banning texting while driving, and nine of those states plus D.C. adopted laws prohibiting handheld use of phones while driving.
Extensive research examining cell phone use while driving supports the NTSB’s recommendation.
- The risk of crashing increases 2,300 percent when drivers text.
- In 2010, 3,092 people were killed in “distraction-affected” traffic crashes.
- Traffic injuries and deaths cost $300 billion every year.
However, given the complexities involved in enforcing such laws, the NTSB’s recommendation may not be the most effective solution.
- Cell phone bans aren’t effective on their own. A 2010 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found state texting bans only have a brief impact on driver behavior. In fact, they actually may contribute to increased crashes as drivers continue to use their cell phones, but do so in dangerously surreptitious ways to avoid being pulled over.
- Cell phone bans are difficult and expensive to enforce. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) pilot enforcement programs conducted in two small cities that consisted of highly visible, specialized law enforcement and public service advertising had a sustained impact on people’s cell phone behavior. However, achieving those results required more money, officers and time than most police departments can contribute.
- Ignoring cell phone laws is easy for drivers to rationalize. According to NHTSA’s recent survey on distracted driving attitudes, more than 80 percent of drivers think texting makes other drivers unsafe, but a quarter believe it has no negative impact on their own driving.
- A cell phone ban is no match for the sheer addictive power of mobile devices. Considerable research shows even if drivers want to put down the phone, they can’t without powerful motivation in the form of active and passive enforcement aides.
Finding ways to actually enforce restrictions on cell phone use is where technology can be part of the solution, not just part of the problem. In fact, the NTSB called on individuals, companies and law enforcement agencies to implement technology solutions to automatically promote safe and legal use of cell phones while driving.
It is important to note that the NTSB does not make laws; rather, it investigates fatal crashes and makes safety recommendations. However, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA
) recently finalized rule prohibiting interstate truck and bus operators from handheld use of cell phones while driving does apply to any construction company with fleets subject to FMCSA regulatory oversight. That regulation takes effect Jan. 1, 2012.