American transportation safety regulators want to ban the use of mobile devices while driving, going so far as to say they should never be used in cars unless in case of emergency.
The National Transportation Board said Tuesday that states should ban all driver use of cell phones and other portable electronic devices, even including hands-free devices.
NTSB made the radical recommendation following a deadly highway pileup in Missouri last year when a 19-year-old pickup driver sent or received 11 texts in the 11 minutes immediately before the crash which killed him and a 15-year-old student.
The pickup, travelling at 55 miles per hour, collided into the back of a tractor truck before the pickup was rear-ended by a school bus that overrode the smaller vehicle, and a second school bus rammed into the back of the first bus.
The recommendation, unanimously agreed to by the five-member board, significantly exceeds any existing state laws restricting texting and cell phone use behind the wheel.
While the NTSB doesn’t have the power to impose restrictions, its recommendations carry significant weight with federal regulators and congressional and state lawmakers.
NTSB has previously recommended bans on texting and cell phone use by commercial truck and bus drivers and beginning drivers, but it has stopped short of calling for a ban on the use of the devices by adults behind the wheel of passenger cars.
The problem of texting while driving is getting worse despite a rush by states to ban the practice, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said last week. In November, Pennsylvania became the 35th state to forbid texting while driving.
About two out of 10 American drivers overall – and half of drivers between 21 and 24 – say they’ve thumbed messages or emailed from the driver’s seat, according to a survey of more than 6,000 drivers by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Even more, many drivers don’t think it’s dangerous when they do it – only when others do, the survey found.
At any given moment last year on US streets and highways, nearly 1 in every 100 car drivers was texting, emailing, surfing the Web or otherwise using a handheld electronic device, the safety administration said. And those activities spiked 50 per cent over the previous year.
Driver distraction wasn’t the only significant safety problem uncovered by NTSB’s investigation of the Missouri accident.
Investigators said they believe the pickup driver was suffering from fatigue that may have eroded his judgment at the time of the accident. He had an average of about five and a half hours of sleep a night in the days leading up to the accident and had had fewer than five hours of sleep the night before the accident, they said.
Regardless of the personal contributions to the accident, the fatal Missouri crash is a “big red flag for all drivers”, NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman said at a meeting to determine the cause of the accident and make safety recommendations.
It is not possible to know from cell phone records if the driver was typing, reaching for the phone or reading a text at the time of the crash, but it’s clear he was manually, cognitively and visually distracted, she said.
“Driving was not his only priority,” Deborah Hersman said.
“No call, no text, no update is worth a human life.”
Missouri had a law banning drivers under 21 years old from texting while driving at the time of the crash, but wasn’t aggressively enforcing the ban, board member Robert Sumwalt said.
“Without the enforcement, the laws don’t mean a whole lot,” Robert Sumwalt said.