Are we moving towards a complete cell phone ban in cars?

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) yesterday called for a complete ban on cell phone use by drivers, including hands-free calling, which has long been perceived as a safer compromise between concentrating on the road and our constant need to stay connected.

The recommendation by the NTSB comes in the wake of some highly-publicized accidents involving distracted drivers, including a deadly pile-up in Missouri last year involving a 19-year-old pick-up driver who was found to have sent or received 11 texts in the 11 minutes immediately preceding the crash.

Nine states currently ban the use of hand-held phones and 35 states ban texting while driving, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. While the NTSB doesn’t have the power to impose restrictions on individual states, its recommendations carry significant weight with federal regulators and other lawmakers.

Distracted driving has been an issue since cell phones first started to appear, but it’s the popularity of texting and the emergence of web- and email-enabled smartphones that has brought a new urgency to the discussion. According to a recent survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, two out of every 10 U.S. drivers – and half of all drivers between the ages of 21 and 24 – say they have sent texts or emails while driving.

“Every year, new devices are being released,” said Deborah Hersman, chairwoman of the NTSB. “People are tempted to update their Facebook page, they are tempted to tweet, as if sitting at a desk. But they are driving a car.”

Ironically, numerous surveys have shown that the majority of the public agrees with the NTSB and considers distracted driving to be a dangerous practice, but only when other people do it. Drivers of all ages have a misplaced belief that they can talk and text behind the wheel of their own cars without presenting a danger to themselves or others.

While the call for a ban on using handheld devices has widespread support, extending the ban to hands-free calling maybe more problematic. The NTSB has not released separate data showing the incidence of accidents caused by hands-free calling, instead lumping all use of cell phones into the catch-all category of distracted driving.

Motor vehicle and cell phone manufactures have gone out of their way to encourage the use of in-car Bluetooth or wireless headsets and a complete ban would have enormous repercussions for both industries. A ban on hands-free phone chat also begs the question whether any kind of chat in a moving vehicle could be considered  a distraction, including listening to the radio and talking to other passengers.

However, any discussion on the dangers of handheld devices in moving vehicles is a good idea and will hopefully slow down and eventually reverse accident statistics that are becoming increasingly alarming.

Should drivers be banned from using cell phones, even if they are hands-free? Share your thoughts with The Online Mom!

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