Early this month, the National Transportation Safety Board (or NTSB) recommended a full ban on the use of cell phones while driving. The proposed ban also includes any other texting devices while driving. Emergency situations are exempt from the ban. According to the NTSB, a complete ban on cell phone use by drivers, including hands free devices, is necessary to combat the growing dangers of auto accidents caused by distracted driving.
Personal injury lawyers like myself have long recognized that distracted driving is a leading cause of car accidents and other motor vehicle collisions. When a driver is distracted while driving, the risk of collision increases dramatically. This happens because the driver's attention is focused on something other than their most important task--driving their vehicle. As a result, something happens in front of the distracted driver that they do not perceive quickly, if at all, resulting in, at best, a delayed reaction to approaching danger.
Nearly everyone agrees that distracted driving is dangerous and can cause serious injury or death. Nearly everyone agrees texting, reading email, and dialing a phone number all examples of distracted driving. However, nearly every driver has guilty of this practice. All too often, the lesson of distracted driving is only realized when a serious accident occurs.
According to the NTSB, distracted driving is not a new problem. However, the problem has become ubiquitous with the explosion in the number of people who now own smart phones. At any moment, 13.5 million drivers are on a hand-held phone according to a new NTSB study. Over 3,000 deaths occur every year from distracted driving. As NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman observed, distracted driving has "become the new DUI."
The NTSB's recent recommendation of a complete ban on cell phone use while driving comes on the heels of their investigation into a deadly 2010 chain reaction collision in Missouri. During the eleven minutes before the collision, the driver of a pickup sent or received eleven text messages. In the moments before the crash, the driver was seen leaning over as if reading or sending a text message when his truck slammed into the back of a tractor-trailer at 55 MPH which had slowed or stopped because of a highway work zone. This collision set in motion a larger chain reaction collision involving two school buses, resulting in 2 fatalities and 38 injuries.
Although the NTSB's cell phone ban recommendation while driving does not carry the force of law, their safety recommendations often carry significant weight with federal regulators and congress members. While a potentially unpopular move, it is possible the NTSB's proposal may prompt some states to impose similar blanket cell phone bans barring emergency situations. As NTSB Chairwoman Hersman noted, "no email, no text, no update, no call is worth a human life."
At a minimum, there is no reason why every state should not ban sending or reading a text message while driving a vehicle or reading an email while driving. As discussed in other articles I have posted, texting while driving is at least as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. To not prohibit this practice, absent a true emergency, is unconscionable.
CNN Website, NTSB Recommends Full Ban On Use Of Cell Phones While Driving, December 14, 2011.
My Fox Chicago Website, NTSB Recommends Total Ban On Cell Phones In Cars, December 13, 2011.