NTSB urges states to ban mobile devices for all drivers

Since the NTSB report was published last week, there have been many news features and comments about the recommended ban on cell phones and other devices for all drivers. Some analysts support the agency’s initiative, while others claim that the proposed laws would not provide much benefit.

NTSB cannot establish such a rule by itself, but it urged legislators in all 50 states to ban hands-free as well as handheld devices. It is already illegal to text while driving in 35 states, including in Missouri where the accident occurred. Use of hand-held phones is banned for all drivers in ten states. Both texting and hand-held phones are now prohibited for interstate truck and bus drivers nationwide.

Studies of distracted driving have shown that hands-free devices are no safer than handhelds. Talking on a phone impairs the driver’s reaction time by 37% and increases the likelihood of a crash by 700%. Other studies concluded that handheld cell phone bans have had, at most, a minor effect on the rate of fatal crashes and injury accidents. When the laws are not enforced, most drivers eventually return to their old behaviors. Plus, there has been a 655% increase in cell phone users and 3900% increase in usage minutes per subscriber in the past 20-plus years, but the rate of auto accidents has remained the same.

In fact, traffic deaths declined 1.6% in 2010, to the lowest level since 1949. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported 1.10 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, down from 1.15 in 2009. One out of nine fatalities involved trucks with a gross weight of 10,000 or more pounds, but the number of truck-involved fatal crashes has been declining steadily since 2002. Professional truck drivers are among the safest on the road, but would it make their jobs easier if other drivers were less distracted?

What do you think? Should all states ban hands-free cell phones as well as handhelds and texting for every driver?