NTSB recommendation carries no legal authority.
The National Transportation Safety Board has called for a nationwide ban on the use of personal electronic devices by drivers when operating a vehicle. The safety recommendation comes following the NTSB’s investigation of a horrific August 2010 crash in Missouri where the driver of a pickup truck hit a dump truck and was itself rear ended by a pair of school buses. The NTSB’s investigation has shown that the pickup driver sent and received 11 text messages in the 11 minutes leading up to the time of the accident. The last text was received moments before the pickup struck the truck-tractor.
As a result of these and other accidents, the NTSB has called for all 50 states and the District of Columbia to ban the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices for all drivers. That ban would make an exception for PEDs designed to support the driving task.
“According to NHTSA, more than 3,000 people lost their lives last year in distraction-related accidents”, said Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. “It is time for all of us to stand up for safety by turning off electronic devices when driving. No call, no text, no update, is worth a human life.”
The NTSB has noted that over the last two decades, the use of cell-phones and personal electronic devices has grown exponentially. As of 2011, there are 5.3 billion mobile phone subscribers worldwide, representing 77 percent of the world’s population. In the United States, the percentage is even higher with more than one cell phone for America’s 310 million residents.
Cited by the NTSB were several high-profile cases involving driver distraction including a 2008 train wreck in Chatsworth, California, that killed 25 people. At fault was a commuter train’s engineer who ran a red signal while texting. The NTSB cited cases involving airline pilots, a tugboat driver and bus and truck drivers, underscoring both its influence in all matters of transportation and the distractions that come with operating a variety of conveyances.
The NTSB has no authority to implement a ban itself, but its recommendations cover much weight. The board relies upon its “reputation for conducting thorough, accurate, and independent investigations and for producing timely, well-considered recommendations to enhance transportation safety,” with such reports often used as the basis for impacting public policy.
Not directly affected by a proposed ban would be technologies such as General Motors’ OnStar system or Ford SYNC. Although U.S. transportation secretary Ray LaHood has expressed concern about both systems and the potential distractability that these technologies can cause, the hands-free and voice command features don’t have the same level of distraction as do hand-held devices.
Photo: Morgue File