The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board recommended on Tuesday that states outlaw the use of all electronic devices, while driving, including cellphones with hands-free kits.
The board's proposal goes beyond laws already in place in many states against texting and against using phones without hands-free kits. It would cover all drivers of personal as well as commercial vehicles. The NTSB cannot enact or enforce laws itself but investigates accidents and issues recommendations for highway safety. In the past, it has recommended state laws for seatbelt use and other safety measures.
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.
In making the recommendation to the 50 states and the District of Columbia, the NTSB took aim at driver distractions rather than specific devices. Its investigations show that even hands-free calls have distracted drivers enough to cause serious accidents, Hersman said.
The proposal would make an exception for electronics that assist in the driving process, such as GPS (Global Positioning System), and for emergency calls while driving, such as to report an accident or hazard. It will be up to law enforcement to define emergencies, Hersman said.
In a report released earlier this month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the incidence of texting while driving had increased by 50 percent over the past year. That was despite the fact that 34 states, the District of Columbia and the Territory of Guam have banned texting for all drivers and seven other states have banned it for novice drivers.
Hersman expressed confidence in law enforcement's ability to enforce such laws, saying they are able to detect drivers who are weaving or driving erratically. But she said it will take more than laws to stop drivers from distracting themselves.
"It's up to all of us to do the right thing, even when no one is watching," Hersman said.
CTIA, the main U.S. trade organization for mobile operators, said it supported bans on manual texting and deferred to state and local lawmakers and citizens to determine the best laws for the areas where they live.
"We have always encouraged the industry to continue to develop new technology-based tools and offerings that are affordable and consumer-friendly that would create safer driving," CTIA CEO Steve Largent said in a written statement. "The industry constantly produces new products and services, including those that can disable the driver's mobile device."