NTSB Recommends Nationwide In-Car Phone, Texting Ban

December 13, 2011

It shouldn't take a government agency to figure out that texting while driving is dangerous. There's ample evidence to support the claim. But today the National Transportation Safety Board nonetheless recommended a nationwide ban on the use of handheld cell phone and text messaging devices while driving.

Handsfree systems, passengers, and emergency circumstances are exempted from the recommendation, according to CNN. It's also important to note that the NTSB's recommendation is just that--it's not a mandate, regulation, or law. Individual states will have to take action with their own legislatures to put the recommendation into effect.

The recommendation will be welcomed by safety advocates, but several states already have rules in place that meet the recommendation, and many more--most, actually--have some form of texting or cell phone use ban already. In some states, cities and counties have enacted their own bans in addition to state law, though Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, and Oklahoma prohibit local ordinances on cell phone use and texting.

Though the data on the dangers of texting or using handheld phones while driving appears to be clear, there is some evidence that laws don't deter the activity, particularly among teens. Others argue that raising penalties for violation of such laws amounts to creation of a "nanny state."

According to the Governor's Highway Safety Association, currently only eight states, the Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia have a general in-car cell phone calling ban (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington). In all but Maryland, using a phone while driving is a primary offense, meaning it's reason enough on its own to cause a traffic stop and ticket.

Another four states have limited-case bans on cell use, including Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Oklahoma, which ban use by young drivers (Arkansas, drivers aged 18-20), learner or intermediate license drivers (Louisiana and Oklahoma), or state vehicles (New Mexico).

Overcoming the current state bias against banning hand-held cell phone use in the remaining 38 states may prove difficult, even with the weight of the NTSB's recommendation.

Texting, on the other hand, has seen much wider bans: all but 15 states ban it outright as a primary offense. Of the states that allow texting while driving (Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi, Missori, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and West Virginia), six have partial bans for learning drivers (Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Texas, and West Virginia).

Only three states specifically prohibit school bus drivers from texting while driving, but the general ban on texting covers school bus drivers in the other text-ban states.

Rounding up the remaining less-than-full ban states on texting while driving may be a less imposing hurdle to clear given the wider acceptance of its danger and non-necessity behind the wheel, though as with the recommendation on cell phones, seeing any change will come down to whether individual states find a need to change their current laws in light of the NTSB recommendation.

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