Last week the National Transportation Safety Board voted unanimously to recommend that all 50 states and the District of Columbia ban the use of cell phones by drivers. This recommendation was based on volumes of evidence supporting the dangers of distracted driving. Here’s NTSB’s recommendation:
Ban the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices (other than those designed to support the driving task) for all drivers; 2) use the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration model of high visibility enforcement to support these bans; and 3) implement targeted communication campaigns to inform motorists of the new law and enforcement, and to warn them of the dangers associated with the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices while driving.
This is the most far-reaching recommendation to date because it prohibits all cell phone use by drivers, including the use of hands-free devices. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, only 9 states and DC prohibit handheld cell phone use by all drivers. Texting while driving is banned in 35 states and DC. No state prohibits the use of hands-free devices. Check GHSA site for more information.
In 2010, the Bicycle Alliance of Washington and others successfully championed a bill that elevated handheld cell phone use and texting while driving to a primary traffic offense punishable by a $124 fine. For drivers younger than 18, the ban includes the use of hands-free devices. Read previous posts on this topic here and here.
Elevating this traffic violation to a primary offense was important. When it was a secondary law, an officer could only issue a ticket to a driver talking on a cell phone if they had been pulled over for some other violation—like speeding. Washington State Patrol wasted no time going after cell phone violators when the law took effect, issuing 670 tickets in the first 20 days. Seattle Police Department’s Aggressive Driver Response Team routinely issues tickets to cell phone violators as well.
Is Washington State ready to fully adopt NTSB’s recommendation by prohibiting the use of hands-free devices while driving? Let’s hope so. A growing mound of evidence suggests that having your hands on the steering wheel isn’t enough. Engaging your mind in a cell phone conversation (handheld or hands-free) distracts the driver from the primary task at hand: driving safely and attentively.