Is NTSB call for ban on electronics for drivers realistic?

U.S. safety board urges states to outlaw use of all electronic devices while driving

Let's give the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board credit for recognizing the obvious: Our modern addiction to mobile phones has made our roads less safe, often tragically so.

The safety board, which has no enforcement powers, on Tuesday recommended that states move to ban the use of all electronic devices while driving. This includes not just texting -- which should be a no-brainer -- but also talking on cellphones, even if the driver is using a hands-free kit. (The sole exceptions: GPS devices and emergency calls.)

Unfortunately, it's likely that the NTSB's perfectly logical recommendation will fall on deaf ears, whether those ears belong to the states or to drivers who will continue to play Russian roulette with their own safety and the safety of other people on the road, no matter what the law says.

That's already happening in the nine states where all drivers are prohibited from using handheld cellphones while driving. I live in New York, one of those states. The cellphone ban here is the most-ignored law I've ever seen in any of the five states I've lived in. Hell, I've ignored the law (which I'm not proud to admit; I'm just being honest).

Talking on a cellphone is distracting enough, but texting is a whole different level of stupid. Thirty-four states plus the District of Columbia have laws against texting while driving, yet millions of people continue to do it. (No, I've never texted while driving, but I've seen plenty of people engaged in this idiotic act. The first tell is the swerving vehicle.)

The results can be fatal, as IDG News Service's Stephen Lawson writes:

NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman announced the proposal after the board reviewed a recent crash in Missouri that killed two people and injured 38. In that incident, the driver of a pickup truck sent and received 11 texts in the 11 minutes before he crashed into a tractor-trailer rig at 55 miles per hour, setting off a multicar pileup that included a bus.

"It may seem like it's a very quick call, a very quick text, a Tweet, or an update, but accidents happen in the blink of an eye," Hersman said. "Thousands of lives have been lost due to distraction." The agency estimates that more than 3,000 people died in 2010 in distraction-related accidents.

But with cellphones (particularly smartphones) becoming almost as common as, well, drivers' licenses, how can the NTSB realistically expect this dangerous practice to end, even with tough new laws? Every state in the U.S. has tough laws against drunk driving, but with a bar on every corner and alcohol available for purchase in supermarkets and convenience stores, those laws are broken on an hourly basis across the nation. How could they not be?

In the end it will come down to personal responsibility and common sense, whatever the laws are. As the NTSB's Hersman said, "It's up to all of us to do the right thing, even when no one is watching."

In other words, don't expect anything to change for the better. That's just the world we live in.

Still, the NTSB has the right idea.

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