National “Texting While Driving” Ban?

It is fast becoming the opinion of law enforcement and federal safety officers across the United States that texting, emailing, and chatting on a cell phone while operating a vehicle is simply too dangerous of behavior to be legal. In fact, more and more states are beginning to enact full bans on cell phone use while driving.

Since cell phones have become commonplace, more and more auto accidents have been reported, caused by one of the drivers being distracted by a cellular device. In the past, drivers were warned against changing the radio or adjusting temperature settings on their car while behind the wheel. Cell phones are just another distraction making drivers less and less focused on the task at hand.

Though many states have laws or at least precedent to sue against drivers who use cell phones while behind the wheel, more and more experts are suggesting banning hands-free devices as well. This is a much stricter policy than has been encouraged before. The idea is that any distraction, whether it requires a driver’s hands or not, will take attention and focus away from safely operating a vehicle.

The specialists behind these laws are unanimously in favor of an exception being made for global positioning systems (GPS) because these devices are made to enhance the safety of the driver. That way, drivers can still interact with their digital map helpers and get where they’re going without breaking a law. Legal experts have pointed out that a full ban, including GPS units, simply wouldn’t be reasonable for most states to consider. By allowing GPS and similar devices as an exception to the new laws, supporters are starting the driving safety discussion without being too strict.

The main proponent of these bans is the National Transportation Safety Board, a federal advisory board that has no lawmaking power but does significantly influence state and federal governing bodies. Governors, senators, representatives and more all rely on the National Transportation Safety Board’s recommendations when choosing how best to keep Americans safe while on the roadways.

At the moment, over half of the states, as well as Washington, D.C. already have texting bans in place for drivers. However, only nine states and D.C. have banned hand-held cell phone use during driving. Other states have restrictions for new drivers but not experienced drivers. As of today, no state has any sort of ban or restriction on a driver’s use of hands-free devices, including both cell phones and GPS units.

The news story that has garnered so much attention for this topic occurred in Gray Summit, Missouri in 2010. A 19-year old driver behind the wheel of a pickup truck managed to send and receive a total of eleven texts in the same amount of minutes before careening into a semi-truck cab directly ahead. The accident caused two deaths, including that of the driver whose pickup was severely crushed and mangled between a semi-truck cab and a full-sized school bus. A second school bus rammed the first from behind, furthering the damage. Thirty-eight people were injured. The second death was that of a fifteen-year on the first school bus.

The National Transportation Safety Board notes that it has already become a common protocol when investigating an auto accident to request the cell phone records of all drivers involved. These records include details about calls, texts, and other activities on a mobile device. Since this information is already highly suspected at the beginning of any auto accident investigation and it is most certainly a preventable cause, the National Transportation Safety Board states more states should impose texting bans.

But it’s not just car and truck drivers that are the problem. A train engineer texting back in 2008 was the cause of a train collision that cost the lives of 25 people in California. A tugboat pilot caused the death of two tourists when he got distracted on his cell phone and laptop and let the tugboat run right into a tourist boat. Similarly, though luckily not fatal, a Northwest Airlines flight in 2009 actually missed its landing strip by more than a hundred miles because not one but both pilots were distracted on their laptops.

While these high profile cases received a great deal of attention, there are still dozens of more cases across the country of auto crashes caused by at least one driver being distracted by their personal technology.

The National Transportation Safety Board has also addressed the existing bans on texting and cell phone use while driving. Just because many states have these bans on the books doesn’t mean they are actively enforced. In fact, half of the drivers in their early 20s admit to texting or emailing while driving. In 2009, there were 50% more drivers texting than in 2008. It is suspected that nearly one in every one hundred drivers can be assumed to be texting or otherwise distracted by their phone.