I think banning in-car phone use is a GREAT IDEA. There was actually a time in this country when people drove cars without having a phone in them.
The government's transportation safety experts recommended Tuesday to ban all American drivers from using portable electronic devices — including cell phones, even if you use a hands-free device.
The recommendation, which isn't binding but which is likely to influence the decisions of Congress and state legislatures in writing new safety laws, makes only two exceptions: You could still use GPS navigation devices, and you could use your cell phone in an emergency.
Besides calling for government action, the NTSB also urged consumer electronics manufacturers to figure out a way to "disable the functions of portable electronic devices within reach of the driver when a vehicle is in motion" while at the same time allowing the driver to make a call in an emergency.
Spokesmen for the Consumer Electronics Association and CTIA—The Wireless Association did not immediately return calls for comment on whether such a device is possible .
"No call, no text, no update, is worth a human life," Deborah Hersman, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said at a news conference in Washington.
Safety advocates have long called for such a ban to reduce the phenomenon of distracted driving, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says killed 3,092 people in 2010.
The HTSA reported last week that about 20 percent of all drivers and 50 percent of drivers 21 to 24 years old admit to having texted while driving. Overall, more than three-quarters of drivers say they are willing to answer calls on all, most or some trips.
"People continue to make bad decisions about driving distracted — but what's clear from all of the information we have is that driver distraction continues to be a major problem," NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said last week in reporting the numbers.
But similar studies linking cellphone use to poor driving have been challenged, most recently by researchers at Wayne State University in Detroit, who concluded last month that some earlier studies were seriously flawed.
The report, published in the journal Epidemiology, examined to earlier studies that examined crashes in which cellphone records showed that the driver had used a cellphone. Those studies "likely overestimated the relative risk for cell phone conversations," the researchers said, because they improperly assumed that the drivers were actually in motion when they were on the phone — in other words, they didn't factor in such so-called part-time driving.
Only 10 states ban handheld devices right now, and 35 ban texting while driving.
The recommendation comes following the NTSB's investigation of an August 2010 accident in Gray's Summit, Mo., involving a pickup truck, two school buses and several other vehicles.
The accident was blamed on the 19-year-old driver of the pickup, who sent or received 11 texts in the 11 minutes before the pileup, which killed two people and injured 38 others.
"That finding raises a red flag to all of us on the highways," Hersman said.
The NTSB recommendation wouldn't cover GPS devices, but — if it eventually becomes law — it would ban using your phone for any reason, even with a Bluetooth headset or speakers. The only exception would be to call 911 in an emergency.