Wednesday, December 14, 2011

NTSB Wants You to Shut Up and Drive

The National Transportation Safety Board is finally weighing in hard on cell phones in cars: it wants their use banned. I couldn't agree more.

The suggested ban is not just for hand-held phones. It is for anything that allows you to chat, text, send e-mails and all the other multi-tasks people involve themselves in electronically these days.

Virginia prohibits drivers 18 and younger from cell phone use while driving, but it is a secondary offense, meaning you must be stopped for something else in order for the law to be enforced, the same way the seat belt law is enforced.

Cell phone use is as responsible for highway mayhem--especially among younger drivers--as any other type of impaired driving, including drunk driving, driving while watching TV, driving while fighting with your spouse or the children, driving while reading the newspaper and drinking coffee, driving while cussing other drivers, driving while sleeping, etc. People do all of those. I certainly have.

As Deborah Hersman, chairwoman of the N.T.S.B., puts it in a NYTimes story this a.m., “Every year, new devices are being released. 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.” She's underselling her point.

Deborah, who seems to know that she's putting herself in the middle of what my old buddy would call a "shitstorm" says, "“It’s going to be very unpopular with some people. We’re not here to win a popularity contest. We’re here to do the right thing. This is a difficult recommendation, but it’s the right recommendation and it’s time.” The storm is likely to come from the industry, not the user, however. People generally have more sense than industry, which stands to make money, even they use these little monsters while driving.

Our brothers and sisters on the right will insist we don't need the government to tell us what to do, but I suspect in this case we do, too. It's like motorcycle helmets, safety steering wheels, airbags, seatbelts, plastic dashboards and a whole list of safety items that have saved many thousands of lives over the years.


1 comment:

  1. I think talking on the phone while driving, texting or operating any other communication device while driving is one of the most selfish and irresponsible act a person can commit. There is nothing else that we do on a daily basis that more endangers other peoples lives than driving on a public highway. To purposely allow oneself to be distracted is nothing more than selfish, dangerous behavior. As a bicyclist, these folks are the ones I worry about. But, until the NTSB comes out with very specific data on how many people are killed annually by drivers who are on the phone, texting or otherwise communicating by other electronic device, I am afraid nothing is going to happen. There is considerable data on distracted driving but "distracted"means many things. My daughter was distracted when she had a serious accident. She was reaching for a bottle of lotion on the floor. That is distracted driving. It is going to be a hard sell until that very specific data (unless I am missing it) pinpoints exactly how many deaths annually are directly attributable to cell phone use. Especially when the overall vehicle fatality numbers are the lowest since 1949. Legislators are going to look at that number and say it is a non issue, especially in today's environment of less governmental interference in our lives. Of course I am aware how hard this number will be to figure given lack of evidence, reluctance of the driver to admit the cause etc. I'm afraid in this climate we live in nothing substantial is going to come about from this study.