National Safety Council, a national safety group, recommends a total ban on cell phone use while driving, saying the practice is clearly dangerous and leads to fatalities. States should ban drivers from using hand-held and hands-free cell phones, and businesses should prohibit employees from using cell phones while driving on the job. The group’s statement likened talking on cell phones to drunken driving.
No state currently bans all cell phone use while driving. Six states — California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Utah and Washington — and the District of Columbia ban the use of hand-held cell phones behind the wheel, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Also, 17 states and the district restrict or ban cell phone use by novice drivers.
The Council examined more than 50 scientific studies before reaching its decision. One was a study by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis that estimates 6 percent of vehicle crashes, causing about 2,600 deaths and 12,000 serious injuries a year, are attributable to cell phone use. And the statistics indicate that hands-free cell phones are just as risky as hand held phones.
What makes cell phone use distinct from other risky driving behaviors, is the magnitude of use — there are 270 million cell phone users in the U.S. and 80 percent of them talk on the phone while driving. The National Safety Council claims to be the first major national safety group to call for a total cell phone ban for drivers. The National Transportation Safety Board has been urging states since 2003 to ban the use of cell phones or any wireless device by inexperienced drivers who have learner’s permits or intermediate licenses. Last year, at least 23 states considered some form of legislation to restrict the use of cell phones or wireless devices, according to the board.
The Governors Highway Safety Association agreed that cell phone use while driving is dangerous, but said it would be difficult to enforce a ban. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which is funded by auto insurers, said banning all cell phone use “makes sense based on the research,” but agreed that enforcement will be difficult. Whether our elected officials have the backbone to do what “will be difficult” remains to be seen.