The National Transportation Safety Board recently called for a total ban on driver use of portable electronic devices – both hands-free and hand-held – in all motor vehicles.
Distraction-related accidents took the lives of about 3,000 people on America’s highways last year, according to NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman.
The agency’s press release calling for the ban included examples of deadly crashes, injury accidents and near misses caused by distracted drivers, pilots and engineers.
The NTSB does not have the authority to make state law, but the agency’s recommendations can be used when legislators bring the issue up in capital buildings across the country.
For example, a motorcoach driver slammed into a low bridge in 2004 while using a hands-free device and injured 27 high school students. A commuter train conductor texting on his phone hit a freight train head on in 2008, killing 25 in California. Two airline pilots using their laptop computers were distracted and overflew their destination by 100 miles in 2009. A tugboat mate killed two tourists while he was using a laptop computer when his tug pushed a barge over their duckboat in the Delaware River in 2010.
The NTSB report outlined the different mishaps in assorted transportation types in an effort to show the many ways that portable electronic devices can distract the operator of a vehicle. The agency set the deadlines across all modes of transportation.
The Department of Transportation banned the use of smartphones by professional truck and motorcoach drivers in the fall. That rule was created by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Researchers say the statistical evidence backs up the NTSB’s recommendations. An analysis of 300 studies on mobile phones showed no evidence that people using hands-free devices were any less distracted than people holding a phone to their ear, according to the Associated Press.
American privacy laws have made it difficult for researchers to gather thorough data on motor vehicle accidents caused by cellphone distraction. Studies conducted in Australia and Canada have shown drivers are four times more likely to crash if they are talking on the phone regardless of whether it was hands-free or handheld.
A Carnegie Mellon study from 2008 also backed up claims that hands-free devices are just as dangerous as hand-held ones. That research showed it is the brain, not the hand, that is distracted. Driving while talking on the phone is distracting because the brainpower is being divided. Research done in driving simulators showed a loss of skills when drivers were subjected to voices talking to them, according to the AP. Investigators see personal electronic devices in increasing numbers of accident scenes.