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Will the New NTSB Proposal Finally Stop People from Texting While Driving?

Natalie Josef
December 14, 2011

In August 2010, in Missouri, a nineteen-year-old pickup truck driver traveling at 55mph crashed into the back of a tractor truck, which caused a deadly chain reaction. After striking the tractor truck, the pickup truck was then rear-ended by a school bus, which was then rear-ended by another school bus. Among the casualties were the pickup driver and a fifteen-year-old student. Another thirty-eight people were injured.

So, what happened? Was the pickup driver drunk? Were the roads slick? Was there poor visibility? No, no, and no. This week, according to federal investigators, the pickup driver who rear-ended the tractor truck and caused the pileup was texting—in fact, he had sent and received eleven texts in the eleven minutes preceding the accident.

According to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, two out of ten drivers (and half the drivers between twenty-one and twenty-four) have admitted to texting or emailing behind the wheel. And that’s just the ones who admitted it. Even more disturbing is the fact that those surveyed only think it’s dangerous when other drivers do it, not when they do.

During 2011, at any given moment, one in one hundred drivers were using a handheld device to text, email, or surf the web while driving, a 50 percent increase over the previous year. And we hear about the accidents it causes all the time—the commuter rail accident that killed twenty-five people in CA, the young woman, Heather Lerch, who died while texting with a friend on her three-mile trip home from work. Even a Northwest flight flew more than 100 miles past its destination because both of the pilots were using their laptops.

I have written about this topic many times and I am still confounded by the statistics and the fact that many people don’t see any harm in texting while driving. Every single time I drive, I see someone on their phone. Just yesterday, a woman talking on her phone ran a stop sign at a four-way stop and almost hit two people in the cross walk. She never even slowed down.

I don’t understand why people still keep using cell phones while driving. When people are drinking and driving, their decision making is impaired, which isn't an excuse, just an explanation. But people are perfectly sober when texting. Do they just not feel how distracted they are? Is their texting just that important? Do they just not care?

One factor seems to be the lack of enforcing bans on the use of portable electronic devices. Using these devices while driving is illegal in thirty-five states, but we all know how rampant it is. I know people who have gotten tickets for it (with some as much as $120) who still do it. They just try to hide it better.

Now, the National Transportation Safety Board has unanimously recommended that all use of cell phones in vehicles be illegal, except in emergencies. Their recommendation applies to both hands-free and hand-held devices, which marks a significant departure from many state laws that only concern hand-held devices. The NTSB has recommended this in response to the truck and school bus accident in Missouri.

The problem is, the NTSB has pretty much said all of this before. Sure, the addition of banning hands-free devices is a new measure, but states can't even enforce their current laws. To think that there are fifteen states that still don’t have a law against texting while driving is unbelievable to me. What will it take for people to stop? Having a loved one be killed? Increasing the fines imposed on using portable devices while driving? 

Even though I applaud the effort, I am not so sure this new recommendation by the NTSB will make a dent in this problem. People only seem to curb their behavior when you threaten their wallets or their freedoms, and that would take stringent enforcement.

What do you think? Should the laws against cell phone use apply to hands-free devices as well? Do you text while you drive? If you do, what would make you stop?

Natalie Josef

About the Author

Natalie Josef is an automotive expert at RepairPal, the leading online source of auto repair resources and estimates. With many ASE Master certified mechanics on staff who have decades of experience, RepairPal knows all the fine points of car repair.

2 User Comments

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By , December 14, 2011
I admit that I have texted while at a stop light and/or stop sign. A ticket would definitely make me stop!
By , December 24, 2011
It's the same here in Australia, mobiles and texting is illegal but ppl still do it, dont u wonder why drivers are always looking at their lap. But then again , why dont they ban two way radios, whats the difference,it will always be an ongoing saga. Just like drink driving, fines dont deter, its part of life now, just think what your childrens , kids will be doing in 20 years time, thats the future.