NTSB seeks total cell phone ban

National Transportation Safety Board Horrified by the findings of its probe of a fatal text messaging crash, the NTSB has come out in favor of a nationwide ban on the use of portable handheld electronic devices by drivers.

“It is time for all of us to stand up for safety by turning off electronic devices when driving,” NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman said at a Dec. 13 hearing on the 2010 multi-vehicle wreck. “How many more lives will be lost before we, as a society, change our attitudes about the deadliness of distractions?”

Electronic distracted driving “is becoming the new DUI,” board member Robert Sumwalt said. “It’s becoming epidemic.”

States would have to sign off on the NTSB plan for it to take effect, far from a given. Seventeen states have yet to outlaw all text messaging while driving, including Florida, Ohio and South Carolina. No state has banned all use of cell phones by drivers, although a few legislatures have briefly considered such a prohibition.

State legislatures that have banned the use of cell phones while driving have all exempted devices with hands-free accessories such as Bluetooth headsets. The NTSB recommendation is for a ban on non-emergency use of all cell phones, text messaging devices, smartphones and other portable electronic devices not related to operation of the vehicle. The board vote was unanimous.

The NHTSA board called for high-visibility enforcement to support distracted driving bans as well as campaigns to inform motorists of the new law and heightened enforcement. It noted that the Missouri State Highway Patrol handed out only 120 citations for texting (by drivers under 21) in a recent two-year period.

In the Gray Summit, Mo., crash, Daniel A. Schatz of Sullivan, driver of the pickup truck, rammed a truck-tractor after sending and receiving 11 text messages in the 11 minutes before the wreck. “The last text was received moments before the pickup struck the truck-tractor,” the NTSB reported in its findings on the Missouri chain reaction crash.

The pickup truck then was rear-ended by one school bus, which was then rear-ended by another school bus. Two people died, including Schatz. At least 38 people were injured.

“Driving was not (Schatz’s) only priority,” Hersman said. “No call, no text, no update is worth a human life.”

The NTSB report cited several other highly publicized distracted driving accidents, including:

  • The 2008 commuter crash in Chatsworth, Calif., caused by a texting operator. Twenty-five people died and dozens were injured.
  • The 2010 crash caused by a cell phoning tractor-trailer driver near Munfordville, Ky., in which 11 people died.
  • The 2010 airline incident in which two pilots explained their one-hour overshoot of the Minneapolis airport by saying they were distracted by laptop computers.
  • The NTSB noted its first investigation of an electronic distracted driving crash came in 2002, when a novice driver using a cell phone veered off the roadway in Largo, Md., crossed the median, flipped over the car and killed five people.

A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report released in early December estimated that 13.5 million drivers are on cell phones during any moment in daylight hours. One in 100 drivers are making phone calls, texting or using the Internet at any moment, the report said.

The U.S. Transportation Department banned handheld cell phone use by interstate truck and bus drivers on Nov. 23. The DOT reported Dec. 8 that 3,092 people died in accidents linked to distracted driving in 2010.


  1. I am one of the safest drivers on the road. Many unsafe drivers will say this, but I can say it with a mountain of evidence to back my statement up, from highest scores in one of the nations toughest commercial driving schools, to video from vehicle drivecams showing my instant reaction and perfectly precise maneuvering in dangerous situations. And yes, this very safe driver makes hands free calls very frequently, and I feel I would be put in danger by this potential ban.

    I drive a bus several trips per week. On a four hour trip that I make several times per week, in the dark, I tend to zone out somewhat after a couple hours, with no radio and no conversations. This is not about falling asleep (I take proper rest extremely seriously), but simply about staying as sharp and focused as possible. That’s why I always make sure to call someone on my hands free halfway through the trip. This just keeps me sharp, keeps me alert. Banning this phone use would put myself and my passengers at greater risk, and I take safety very seriously. This is simply a common sense issue. it could even be a secondary enforcement issue (If someone is in an accident, they can then be ticketed for distracted driving). But don’t take away something that can be used for good because some people misuse it!

    • Al Cinamon says:

      Well, Jay, you may be a great driver on paper, but behind the wheel … not so much. “Zoning our” doesn’t sound like a great attribute for a safe driver.

      But I guess you would say that even those tour bus drivers who crashed and killed so many innocents were great drivers because they got high marks on their test paper.

      I think you are in serious need of re-training.

  2. Al Cinamon says:

    To Warren- police are allowed to go through red lights so I guess you would like to be able to run red lights as well.

    This ban is way overdue. Finally, someone realizes that there is no difference between hand-held and hands-free distractions.

    To Elizabeth Fletcher- yes there are consequences. If you want to accept them fine, but ask the victims of your distracted driving if they are willing to accept the consequences. Do they have a choice?

  3. Lucas Bleeker says:

    I don’t have a problem with laws that ban texting or even cell phone use with it not being hands free, but to totally ban cell phone use while driving would be extreme. If you do that then you may as well ban car radios that distract, news papers that distract, CB’s that distract, makeup that distracts or anything else that distracts the driver from their full attention from the road. Going over board is not the answer.

  4. Elizabeth Fletcher says:

    Dear Government of the United States of America (established by the people and for the people):

    I understand the concern for motor vehicle accidents caused by texting and driving, and understand this ban (that is texting). However, I completely disagree with the excess of power and authority you are trying to exert by completely banning cell phone use while in a motor vehicle.

    We should be able to receive text messages, and phone calls, and be allowed to make the right decision to pull over and respond when necessary. We should be able to use the GPS systems available on our cell phones, instead of having to purchase a separate unit. We should have the freedom to make the right choices, period!!!! If we make the wrong choices, then there are consequences. This is the same opportunity we give robbers, murderers, etc. so why would we deserve any less?

    Concern Citizen-Elizabeth

    • It may have been established by the people, but is no longer for the people. Welcome to the current administration.

  5. And this total band on cell phone use is not going to stop the police from talking on there cell phones Y? I have seen them driving down a winding road over the speed limit, I have seen them going down a highway going 60-80mph and talking on a cell phone .
    And they are saying we are nuts, then I have to say so are they! I use my cell phone hands free but I never see any police officer doing it hands free.
    So I say if they are going to ask for a total band on cell phone use that should also include the POLICE. O and the Fire Dept.

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