Gov’t Recommends NO Cell Phone Usage By Drivers

U.S. drivers couldn’t send text messages or use mobile phones — even with headsets or portable speakers — under U.S. National Transportation Safety Board recommendations aimed at preventing distracted-driving crashes.

“Too many people are texting, talking and driving at the same time,” NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said at a hearing in Washington this week. “It’s time to put a stop to distraction. No call, no text, no update is worth a human life.”

Systems built into cars, like General Motors Co.’s OnStar, and global positioning systems wouldn’t be affected by the ban, said Kelly Nantel, an NTSB spokeswoman.

The NTSB recommends safety improvements for U.S. agencies to act upon. It can’t implement them itself. Donald Karol, the NTSB’s director of highway safety, said the agency had been recommending collision warning systems since the mid-1990s.

The board strengthened its anti-phone stance after completing its investigation into an August 2010 crash in Gray Summit, Mo., in which a 19-year-old GMC Sierra pickup driver sent or received 11 text messages in 13 minutes before plowing into the back of a tractor-trailer.

Two school buses collided with the stopped trucks. The pickup driver and one bus passenger perished in the crash. The truck driver and 37 other people were injured.

Last year, 3,092 deaths, or 9.4 percent of 2010 U.S. road fatalities were related to driver distraction, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said last week.

Safety regulators have been debating how much to regulate drivers’ cell-phone use for the past decade. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says he believes motorists are distracted by any use of mobile phones while driving, including hands-free calls.

LaHood, whose campaign against texting and talking on the phone while driving has led to restrictions in 30 states, says his concerns extend to vehicle information and entertainment systems such as OnStar or Ford Motor Co.’s Sync.

The NTSB’s recommendation would have to be adopted separately by each U.S. state, since states have authority to regulate driver behavior. States should adopt electronic-device bans, then back up the laws with aggressive enforcement in the same way they have with drunk driving and seat-belt use, Hersman said.

The use of phones and e-mail by operators is so prevalent that securing call records and the devices themselves is one of the first steps investigators now take after accidents, she said.

The NTSB called for a total ban on mobile phones for truck and bus drivers in September, when Hersman said distracted driving was “increasingly prevalent, exacerbating the danger we encounter daily on our roadways.”

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which regulates trucking and bus companies, banned hand-held cell phones for drivers operating commercial vehicles last month. It banned texting for commercial drivers in January 2010.

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