The National Transportation Safety Board has called on all 50 states to enact the first-ever nationwide ban on talking or texting on a cell phone while driving. The federal agency also recommended stepping up high-visibility enforcement to support the ban.
“More than 3,000 people lost their lives last year in distraction-related accidents,” said Chairwoman Deborah A.P. Hersman at the NTSB’s recent board meeting. “It is time for all of us to stand up for safety by turning off electronic devices when driving. No call, no text, no update is worth a human life.”
The strong words from the agency were prompted by last year’s multi-vehicle highway accident in Gray Summit, Miss., which left two dead and 38 injured. The driver of a pickup truck, which kicked off the chain of events, had sent and received 11 text messages in the 11 minutes preceding the accident, according to an NTSB press release. The last text was received moments before the pickup struck a tractor-trailer, causing two school buses to enter the pileup.
For years, the agency has tracked fatal accidents caused by talking or texting. In 2004, a motorcoach driver crashed into a stone bridge in Virginia because he was distracted from his hands-free cell phone. Nearly a dozen high school students were injured in the accident.
25 people died in 2008 after a commuter train collided with a freight train in California. It was later found that one of the engineers had been using his cell phone.
The incidents over the years haven’t been relegated to only cell phones. In 2009, two pilots flew past their destination by more than 100 miles because they were “distracted by their personal laptops.”
The NTSB estimates that there are 5.3 billion mobile phone subscribers around the globe. In the United States, there are more cell phones than people. These statistics coupled with lazy driving habits can prove fatal. “A Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study of commercial drivers found that a safety-critical event is 163 times more likely if a driver is texting, e-mailing or accessing the Internet,” the NTSB reports.
“The time to act is now,” Hersman said. “How many more lives will be lost before we, as a society, change our attitudes about the deadliness of distractions?”