Posted on Dec 15, 2011

For years New Jersey has had a ban on using a cell phone while driving (without a headset), and all cell phone usage, hands-free or otherwise, for school bus drivers and novice drivers.  More recently, texting while driving was also banned.  Naturally, this was done out of a concern about distracted driving leading to accidents.

However, the New York Times reported on December 13 that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is recommending a ban on all cell phone usage while at the wheel, even where it is hands-free, such as with a wireless headset. No state now has so broad a ban, but the board said that drivers faced serious risks from talking on wireless headsets, just as they do by taking a hand off the wheel to hold a phone to their ear.

Adoption of said recommendation by the states, however, is far from imminent.  This is for two reasons:

  1. the agency’s recommendation is nonbinding, meaning that states are not required to adopt such a ban, and
  2. it will likely not garner much support among state legislators who would be hesitant to draw ire from their constituents, who have gotten used to these devices.

Another reason lawmakers may be hesitant is the impact such a law would have on many car makers that are offering integrated hands-free, voice-activated systems that allow drivers to talk and do other tasks, like calling up their phone directory.

NTSB chairman Deborah Hersan has said that the safety concerns were not just about keeping hands on the wheel and eyes on the road, but also about making sure people focus on the act of driving.  Certainly distracted driving, as a whole, is what they are trying to address, so the ultimate decider is going to be whether hands-free use of these devices can be shown, statistically, to lead to accident and injury.  The agency has said that it based its recommendation on evidence from its investigation of numerous crashes in which electronic distraction was a major contributing factor.


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