NTSB recommends ban on driver cellphone use


The NTSB doesn't have the power to impose the restrictions, but what the five member board recommends does influence federal regulators as well as state lawmakers and those on Capitol Hill.

Enough with the talking and texting while behind the wheel -- that's the unanimous consensus of the NTSB.

The NTSB says even hands-free devices should be off limits.

"We know that this recommendation is going to be very unpopular with some people, but we're not here to win a popularity contest, we're here to do the right thing," NTSB Chairperson Deborah Hersman said.

The board made the recommendation in connection with a deadly highway pileup in Missouri last year. The board said the initial collision in the accident near Gray Summit, Mo., was caused by the inattention of a 19 year-old-pickup driver who sent or received 11 texts in the 11 minutes immediately before the crash.

St. Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, is the author of California's cellphone laws. He says Tuesday's federal recommendations probably go further than most states are willing to go, but he welcomes what he calls a startling development.

"For years, frankly, a lot of people sort of rolled their eyes and just brushed this issue away; I think there is an increasing understanding, reflected in the NTSB announcement, that this really is a life or death matter," Simitian said.

The NTSB says as many as 3,000 people die each year due to distracted driving.

ABC7 found a mixed reaction among drivers about the idea of banning hands-free devices.

"I would say yeah, ban it; I use it a lot for work but I try to pull over while drivin," one driver said.

"I think hands-free devices are fine and they are safe," another said.

The California Highway Patrol says anything that impairs a driver's concentration can be risky.

"Whether it be talking on the phone, hands-free or not hands-free, texting, reading electronic messages, dealing with your kids in the back seat, eating a hamburger, looking for directions; it's really imperative that when you operate a motor vehicle, to do it safely you have to use all your efforts and abilities," CHP Ofc. Tony Tam said.

In 2009, the CHP issued 183,000 citations for illegal cellphone use. Last year that dropped to just under 146,000. The decrease could be due to more awareness. Tam says the CHP believes changing drivers' behavior is really more about education than enforcement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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