NSC talks tough on cell phone bans

cell phone user a safety hazardThe National Safety Council wants a total ban on cell phone use while driving, regardless of whether a hands-free accessory is in the loop.

The 94-year-old safety group made national headlines in mid-January with its cell phone-ban initiative, which recommends laws that are more restrictive than almost all of those under consideration or adopted by the states. Almost all legislation allows for hands-free cell phone use.

“It’s time to take the cell phone away,” NSC president Janet Froetscher said.

The NSC plans to lobby the individual states as well as private businesses. It has sent letters to state governors and key legislators in favor of statewide cell phone bans for motorists.

Many state legislators are resistant to cell phone bills that allow for hands-free use, although text-messaging prohibitions seem to be an easier sell in the current legislative season. Legislation that calls for a total ban on motorists’ use of cell phones typically is designed to later add the hands-free provision as a compromise with opponents of the bill.

“Employers understand how dangerous the behavior is and their potential liability,” Froetscher said. “We are asking all businesses to join us by adopting policies banning calling and texting while driving on the job.”

The NSC plans to step up education efforts about the dangers of distracted driving. It cited the famous 2006 University of Utah study that found on-the-road cell phone use was as bad as drunken driving.

The group points to its past success with seat belts as proof that important auto safety initiatives can be successful over the long term.

“There will be a day when we look back and wonder how we could have been so reckless with our cell phones and texting devices,” Froetscher said.

In October, the NSC came out with guidelines for state teenage driver policies, which include no use of cell phones or text-messaging devices.

Update: Not surprisingly, the emerging hands-free device industry is alarmed by the prospect of a total ban on cell phones while behind the wheel.

Parrot Inc., which calls itself the largest manufacturer of hands-free car kitscell phone equipment, conducted a poll of U.S. adults that showed two-thirds of them would retaliate against legislators who voted for a total ban on cell phones while driving. Almost 85% of drivers aged 18-34 felt people would vote out the lawmakers.

And the pollsters found that 46% of the respondents would not support a ban on “true, voice-activated hands-free systems.”

The hands-free poll was conducted online by Harris Interactive, with 2,491 participants. As with any vested-interest poll, it should be taken with a grain or two of salt. (Parrot did not provide the poll questions’ wording.)

“Ultimately, the survey results mirror Parrot’s beliefs,” said Christian Coly, director of technology at Parrot.

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