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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mixed Reactions To Broad Cell Phone Driving Ban


There’s been a lot of reaction, positive and negative, to yesterday’s call from the National Transportation Safety Board for states to ban all cell phone use– even hands-free– while driving.

Among the naysayers:

  • Florida Sheriff Ben Johnson says the law would be “near impossible to enforce.”
  • Georgia State Senator Jack Murphy says a total ban goes too far. (The state already bans texting while driving, and talking on a phone while driving for anyone under 18.)
  • Chicago business owner Leila Noelliste told the Huffington Post that she is against the ban because being able to talk on the cellphone “when I’m running around town” is important to self-employed people like herself.

Those in favor include:

Mary Maguire, spokesperson for AAA, told Here & Now‘s Robin Young that distracted driving is a serious problem and she hopes the NTSB recommendations provoke debate about the topic.

However, she says it would be difficult to garner the kind of public support needed to forge these recommendations into law.

“I do think that it’s probably unrealistic because there is not one state in the union that has an overall ban. So I think that gives us an indication of legislative sentiment as well as public sentiment,” she said.

NTSB chairwoman Deborah Hersman said she realized the ban might be unpopular but that “no call, no text, no update is worth a human life,” she said. “This is a difficult recommendation, but it’s the right recommendation and it’s time,” she said.

In giving the reasoning for the recommendation, Hersman said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 3,000 people lost their lives last year in “distraction-related accidents.”

The board made the recommendation following a deadly highway pileup in Missouri last year  in which a teenager was found to have sent and received 11 text messages in the 11 minutes before the accident.

Nine states now ban the use of hand-held cell phones while driving and 35 states have laws against texting while driving.

And contrary to popular belief, research from the National Safety Council shows that hands-free devices offer no safety benefits for drivers.


  • Mary Maguire, spokesperson for AAA

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  • Pkemp

    The argument that it is unenforceable is not completely valid. What a law would do is help to assign blame in an auto accident. Over time the enforcement is accomplished through insurance rates, and prison sentences in fatal accidents. “It wasn’t  just an accident, it was illegal!”

  • Pjammy51951

    If people aren’t moved by the horrific stories of people being killed by distracted drivers, then think about the lesser consequences. My low-speed accident (my fault, I was dialing the phone) didn’t kill anyone. But I created neck and back injuries for the people I rear-ended, resulting in a 100K lawsuit which they won. I’ve had chronic knee and hip pain since the accident. All that for a phone call whose purpose I don’t remember, but it couldn’t have been that important. At the time I knew better, but thought that since I was creeping in traffic a under 10 MPH, it would be okay. Hubris can be costly.

  • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

    What about eating, or smoking, or shaving, or applying makeup while driving?  I’ve seen people reading books or letters or memos while driving.  Lighting a cigarette is quite hazardous and it is *burning* don’t forget!

    I think texting is much more distracting that handsfree cell use — you have to look at the tiny reflective screen to read the incoming message, and you have to look at the small buttons and read the same screen to “type” in your reply.

    Contrast this to keeping your eyes on the road while answering a handsfree call and keeping your eyes on the road as you speak.  Outgoing calls are harder to do, but 1-button dialing or voice activated calls are very minor distractions compared to any part of texting.


    • BHA in Vermont

      All true, I too have seen really scary stuff – like the lady eating a bowl of
      cereal while driving. One had for the bowl, one for the spoon, none for
      the wheel.

      Eating/drinking I think CAN be safe as long as it isn’t stuff you need to look at or worry about dripping in your lap. Drinks in ‘one hand’ bottles with straws (I’m thinking Camelback)  are not intrusive. You don’t need to look to find it, don’t need an extra hand to open it and don’t have to obscure your vision to drink.

      My car has built in Blue-tooth enabled phone access but will allow outgoing calls ONLY from the 8 stored 1 touch numbers which show as  .75″ by 2.5″  buttons on the touch screen if the car is moving. I suspect I could dial out if I picked up the phone to do so but I’ve never tried and don’t want to.

  • Barbara

    Who is going to “police”  law enforcement officers?  My husband was driving into work today and saw two officers on the phone; holding the phone not even using a hands free device.

  • Celarth

    We all know that we shouldn’t be doing this, but do we really have to legislate common sense?

  • Rubyresourceress

    I pulled over to the side of the road to make a call in a residential area. A neighbor came over to see what I was doing.  Is the sight of someone pulling over to talk on the phone that rare?

  • BHA in Vermont

    Doing business while driving should be specifically banned. There is a BIG difference between a 30 second ‘status call’ home and doing business which likely lasts much longer and results in other ‘distracted driving’ functions like checking/updating calendars and making notes about the conversation.

    Enforcement should include massive penalties if someone was texting when or just before the accident occurred.  Insurance companies should not be required to pay anything to the person at fault to repair their vehicle or bodies. There is NOTHING safe about looking as a little screen and typing on little keys.

  • misterz

    Just moments ago I saw a Police office making a turn with a cell phone to his ear talking.   Even tough we have a cell phone ban here in Washington State I see little or know enforcement!

  • LongBeachTrijet

    The reason eating, drinking, applying make-up etc isn’t on the table is because statistically, texting and cell phone use cause MANY more accidents. i.e. Most of us have a drink while driving, however, it isn’t nearly as distracting as talking on a phone.

  • Rex Block

    I think it’s fairly unrealistic to believe that we can ban all cell phones and other devices while driving. Maybe driving offenses while using cell phones should be elevated to wreckless driving. I would certainly think twice if I thought I might face a suspension of my driver’s license if I were involved in a traffic violation because I was too busy on my cell phone to pay attention..

  • Hal The Engineer Smith

    The synchronisity between your story on mobile phone use while driving and the conversation with Mary Maquire was chilling. To be talking to a safe driving professional, mention the tragic accident that killed a young man, then to learn your talking to the woman who both knew the boy and who lives in the house where the accident occured was quite an experience for you…and this listener.

    I’m a broadcast engineer with a small business taking care of the radio stations owned by several university other non-profit stations around central Oklahoma. I use my phone while driving primarily to talk to clients. I do have a bad habit of surfing the web while bored driving, given what we’re all learning about driving and using one’s phone I definitely think its time to restrict my mobile phone use to the business related important ones and stop “playing” around while driving.

  • Pablo Martin

    I really liked what the spokesperson from AAA said–in a nutshell, that we need to have a comprehensive approach to dealing with distracted driving and that a blanket law like this will be very difficult to enforce and is unlikely to be supported by the states.
    My major concern with this is that passing a law that limits the use of cell phones in cars will face an onslaught of well-funded opposition from cell phone manufacturers and networks. While driving while distracted by a phone has been shown to be worse than driving drunk, the amount of money and impact promoting this point of view will be negligible in comparison to those arguing to keep the laws as they are.

  • Mary

    I totally support a complete ban on cell phone use as well as other things that distract a driver such as eating, smoking, putting on makeup, turning around to talk to people in the back seat, fussing with a GPS system or anything that takes the driver’s focus off the road.  I never use a cell phone while driving.  In fact, it is turned off when I’m in the car. 

    A young women I knew told me that her employer required her to answer cell phone calls while she was driving, and I thought that was terrible!  What if she needed to write down information from the conversation?  What if the caller was unaware she was driving and expected her to pay close attention to detailed information?  What if the traffic was heavy and full attention needed to be given to the situation on the highway? 

    My father always told me that my number one job as a driver was to drive safely.  As for conversing with passengers, the big difference between passenger conversation and cell phone conversation is that the passenger is able to see the road conditions and moderate conversation relative to the conditions.  Personally, as either a passenger or a driver, I will tone down or halt a conversation when full attention to the road is required.  When my children were small, when I entered a busy freeway I would tell them that Mommy had to pay attention to her driving and would NOT be talking with them.  If they talked to me, I would not respond, and I would let them know when Mommy was able to talk again.  They would sit quietly in their car seats, maybe talking with each other, but beginning to realize the important job a vehicle driver had. 

    If a baby in a car seat is screaming in the back seat, ignore him or pull over.  Set your radio dial or CD player before driving the car.  I used to eat while driving, but after a scary moment while distracted, I decided never to do it again.  While traveling, if I stop at a fast food place for a meal I either go inside to eat or sit in the parking lot to consume my food.  I do my hair and makup prior to getting into the car each morning, and I eat breakfast in my kitchen. 

    There really is no need to engage in distracted driving activity if you plan ahead and focus on the safety of yourself, your passengers, and everyone else on the road. 

    As for conducting business in the car, remember that people successfully conducted business for generations before cell phones were invented.  As a customer, I do not want to conduct business with someone driving a car.  I want that person’s focus to be 100% on me and my business needs.  In fact, when I called a vendor and learned that he was driving a vehicle I immediately terminated the call, saying I would call him back when he was in his office.  I would have felt horrible if he’d been in an accident while talking to me.

    I tell friends and family not to call me while driving, and often my request falls on deaf ears.  A law banning such activity would give my request some teeth, and I could say “It’s not safe AND its not legal!” 

    Please, please!  Let’s ban distracted driving and let’s implement a strong education program to get people to realize the danger.  Public opinion on smoking has changed, and I noticed that when my children were in college they would assign someone to be the “designated driver” when attending parties where they’d be drinking.  That wasn’t the case when I was in college, and I was grateful for the heightened awareness and the efforts to do something about drinking and driving. 

  • Ricardo52

    Thanks to “Here and Now” for covering this issue.  And to the NTSB head for her political courage.  I support her effort.

    I understand how a “preventive” enforcement approach toward illegal wireless communication (WC) while driving is unworkable in most instances (eg. catching someone in the act).However, I see potential for dis-incentivizing WC in moving vehicles by using some  “discovery” methods used with DUI enforcement.First, introduce a prohibition for any WC, with emergency exceptions,  in a moving car by any occupant (similar to “open container” prohibitions for alcohol). Otherwise, an offending driver could simply hand-off the device to a passenger.Then, enhance penalties for instances of fatal or serious injury accidents where WC use identified (as with DUI).In addition, introduce “implied consent”  (as with testing for alcohol use) for police examination of device and provider company records of WC for any device(s) in the vehicle (in a relevant timeframe) as part of accident investigation as condition for driver license/vehicle registration.  Including, of course, strong privacy shields of message content and counterparty identities.Even authorizing police use of any portable WC signal detection technology in vehicle stops enforcing other traffic laws.Understandably, creating laws in that framework certainly a long, hard political road.  Likely will take repeated publicity of accident injury and death identified with WC to start the ball rolling.As a witness to many instances of driver error relating to WC when I travel, I support an effort to penalize such dangerous practices, hopefully  leading their reduction and stigma.  If only for my own safety, and that of my loved ones.Rich B.Sunrise, Fla.Sirius XM Listener

  • Robbins33

    Its not where your hands are at, its where your mind is. All cellphone use, hands free or not, should be banned because it distracts people from their driving. People need to pull over to use their phone. 

  • Olldshep

    As of 1/1/12 commercial drivers (truck, bus, etc) are no longer allowed to text or email while driving. All phone calls must be hands free. I think this is the way to go for all vehicles.
    As a motorcyclist I’m amazed by some of the things I see drivers doing. My personal favorite is the Cigarette, coffee, cellphone, note taking routine. I’ve seen that a few times by contractors going about 75mph on the interstate in a very large pickup truck.
    I wear a blue tooth device when I drive trucks, cars and my motorcycle. If I answer a call the first thing I do is politely tell the caller Im driving and keep it short. If it isn’t a critical call I offer to call them back when I’m stopped. I occasionally get emergency calls from work and need to be reachable by my daughter’s school.
    I do think that there should be fines for texting and hand held calls. I also think that law enforcement should be allowed to give out HEAVY fines for observed dangerous driving and for accidents that are caused by dangerous driving.

  • Frustrated

    It is very frustrating that everytime an incident happens, someone wants to create a new law.   We have voluntarily forfeited our rights to liberty by not only allowing this to happen, but in certain circumstances, demanding that it happen in order to create an image.  The number one cause of fatal automobile accidents from distracted driving is rubbernecking.  So why don’t we make a law that prohibits drivers from viewing anything other than the road.  Outlaw billboards.  The 2nd cause of distracted crashes involves car stereos. So we need to make a law that removes all car audio equipment.  The 3rd cause is eating and drinking while driving, so we need to ban drive thru’s at restaurants.  The 4th cause is cell phones.  Why are we picking on cell phones?  The fact that over 3,000 people lost their lives is horrible.  I sympathize with their families and I pray that it doesn’t happen to anyone in my family.  You are far more likely to die in the hospital from a medical mistake than from talking on the cellphone while driving.  180,000 people die each year from medical mistakes.  Also, according to the NHTSA, over 4,000 pedestrians died in 2009.  So again, my question is, Why are we picking on cell phones?

  • Steven

    This is just another example of how Americans are being legislated t
    Death! Cell phones and texting are being blamed for poor driving habits.
    People need to be taught defensive driving at a young age and be held
    Responsible for driving to fast and tail gating.

  • Michael

    Broad ban on cell phones and
    other mobile devices, radios, handles and switches, rear view mirrors, road
    side advertising, bright colored cars, passengers and let’s not forget the
    biggest distraction, the one that makes every motorist to clinch to the steering
    wheel and hit the brakes: police cars.

    I am sure we can include
    something or everything else in this ban or rather “blanket law “. And it”
    should include massive penalties”!

    And we shouldn’t forget another
    big distraction: thoughts, the ones that are not directly related to driving,
    not driving in general, but ones related to current road situation. You will
    say: Impossible to enforce. Not really, just a small hole in a skull with some special
    probe, I hear those things are really small now and won’t cause much discomfort.
    And if you don’t have enough money for that, than “enhanced” interrogation by
    police right on a spot (jus a few specially equipped vans here and there). And
    it also can be used as a “preventive enforcement approach”. After all we are
    going to save lives. And any one who is against it is a murderer and should go
    to jail.


    But seriously, just stop and
    think for a second. NTSB, NHTSA, NSC, AAA and probably some other organizations
    spend time and money on researching negative side of every day life. And what’s
    the conclusion? It is negative! What can be done about it? Rather simple: a
    broad and comprehensive ban on stuff. Pathetic.


    Most of us spend some time
    on a road every day, and most of us got behind the wheel at around the age of
    17. That by default makes us if not professionals than some what near it. However
    in reality very few of us can be considered a good driver (it’s not the ones
    who newer got a ticket or never been in an accident). But try to tell it to
    some one and guess what? They wouldn’t even get offended, they simply won’t
    believe you. What if something bad happens? Not to worry there is always some
    one else to blame.

    Are you a good driver? What
    a stupid question? Of course you are.

    And before speaking about “New
    Laws”, ask you self another question: Do you really know all the old ones? And
    if the answer is yes, then by all means go for anew ones make your life exciting!


    I can’t contain my self any longer;
    I have to tell you a big secret… Driving is a skill. And like any skill needs
    constant improvement. All those things like cell phones, GPS devices, etc. are
    here to stay and should be included in driver’s education. Just seating behind
    the wheel and being scared by other motorists doing bad things won’t make you a
    better driver. Nor new laws prohibiting use of devisees that define modern life
    will make driving any safer.

    Or am I wrong, and we all
    should join that chase and try to stop the train with magic spells? Will the scary
    ones work better?


    By the way, current ban on
    texting increased amount of texting related accidents by removing the process
    from above the dashboard to below it.

    If only all that effort and “political
    courage” would’ve been spent on app converting spoken word into written one?


    P.S. Speed limit lowered to
    5mi/hr will make all of the above irrelevant, because every accident will be
    attributed to speeding. Just a thought.

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