USA TODAY: All States Should Ban Cell Phone Use While Driving

An interesting story in last week’s USA Today poses an interesting an important question to consider this Holiday Season:

Should all states ban cell phone use while driving?

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According to the USA Today article, state governments should prohibit all drivers from using portable electronic devices such as cellphones while behind the wheel, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) unanimously recommended Tuesday.

The recommendation from the Safety Board followed a hearing on a Missouri highway crash on Aug. 5, 2010, which killed two (2) people and injured thirty eight (38). The chain-reaction crash of four (4) vehicles included two (2) school buses.

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The Board ruled that the initial collision was caused by a pickup driver, Daniel Schatz, 19, who was one of the fatalities, sending eleven (11) text messages in the eleven (11) minutes before the crash. His pickup rammed the back of a tractor-trailer that had slowed for construction on Interstate 44 near Gray Summit.

Schatz’s truck was then rear-ended by a school bus, which was rear-ended by another school bus. The buses, which investigators found had brake problems, carried members of the John F. Hodge High School band. A student, Jessica Brinker, 15, who sat in the last row of the first bus, died in the crash.

“Two lives lost in the blink of an eye,” said Deborah Hersman, the board chairman. “No call, no text, no update is worth a life.”

An estimated 3,092 traffic fatalities in 2010 were blamed on “distracted drivers,” according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). More than one (1) in six (6) drivers send text messages while driving, and nearly half of drivers less than 25 years old are doing it, according to a NHTSA survey released last week. And yes, the author of the Tampa Bay Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog is guilty of this (as well).

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“This is becoming the new DUI,” said Robert Sumwalt, a member of the Safety board. “It’s becoming an epidemic.”

The District of Columbia and thirty five (35) states ban text messaging for all drivers, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. No state bans all cellphone use for drivers, but nine (9) states and D.C. ban drivers from using handheld cellphones while driving.

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Association spokesman Jonathan Adkins said the group supports a texting ban and found in a July report that cell-phone use increases the risk of a crash.

He said he expects the safety-board’s recommendation to spur debate, as his group calls for more research on whether banning hands-free use of cell phones makes driving safer.

“This could be a game-changer,” Adkins said.

Missouri has a state law prohibiting drivers under 21 years old like the pickup driver from sending texts while driving. But state police issued only 120 tickets for the offense during a two-year period, Sumwalt said.

The Board’s federal recommendation for private vehicles would greatly expand previous calls to prohibit cellphone use among commercial drivers.

In September 2010, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration banned commercial drivers from text messaging while operating trucks and buses. The rule applies to about 4 million drivers.

The agency just adopted a prohibition Nov. 23 against commercial drivers using hand-held cellphones while behind the wheel. Violations carry a $2,750 fine. Ouch!!

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I’d love to hear what you think about this issue?

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