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A ban on hands-free phones in cars?

The NTSB's recommendation to ban the use of portable electronic devices by drivers does not have the support of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

By Giselle Smith Dec 22, 2011 8:13PM

I don't think I know anyone who will admit to being a bad driver -- although one former co-worker who was a terrible driver had the sense not to be defensive when no one in the office would let him drive to lunch.


So when the National Transportation Safety Board recommended banning the use of all cellphones -- including hands-free phones -- and other portable electronic devices by drivers, except in emergencies, I wasn't surprised by the opposition. Americans are adamant about their driving prowess, their right to technology and their ability to multitask. 


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Fortunately for them, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, although a vocal opponent of distracted driving, said he would not support a total ban, The Detroit News said. "The problem is not hands-free," he said. "That is not the big problem in America."


The NTSB, which has no power to make auto safety rules, did not back down. "Our recommendations are out there and we stand by them," an NTSB spokesman told The Wall Street Journal.

 

The use of hand-held phones while driving is banned in nine states and Washington, D.C., and 35 states and D.C. prohibit texting behind the wheel. All cellphone use is banned for beginning drivers in 30 states, but otherwise, hands-free is legal everywhere.

 

Last week's NTSB recommendation was prompted by its investigation of a Missouri pileup involving two school buses, a tractor truck, and a pickup driven by a 19-year-old who was texting. The pickup driver and a school bus passenger were killed, and 38 people were injured.

 

While texting was a factor in that crash, NTSB chair Deborah Hersman says that "hands-free is not safer than handheld in many circumstances." The Detroit News added, "In making the case, the NTSB has pointed to several high-profile crashes involving drivers using hands-free devices."

 

Few support an all-out ban

The proposed ban on hands-free phones has been met with sarcasm at many websites where it's been discussed. Some readers suggested that if hands-free use is prohibited, perhaps the government should also ban drivers from talking to passengers, responding to crying babies in the back seat or listening to the radio (not to mention shaving or applying makeup).

 

A number of commenters argued for better driver training and more testing, particularly as drivers age. 

 

In an opinion piece in the Boston Herald, Michael Graham called the proposed ban "the 55 mph speed limit of the 21st century," predicting that it would be "a stupid law openly flaunted by an annoyed American public."


At an online Wall Street Journal poll asking readers whether drivers should be allowed to use hands-free cellphones, the "yes" votes exceeded 68%.


Law should only apply to bad drivers

I was surprised -- though shouldn't have been, I'm sure -- to read about a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey that found that many drivers don't think texting is dangerous when they do it themselves -- only when other drivers do it.


According to the 2010 national attitude survey, more than three-quarters of respondents reported that they will answer calls while driving, and many said they will send a text. By contrast, almost all of those same drivers reported they would feel "very unsafe as a passenger" if the driver were texting, and more than a third said they would feel that way if the driver were speaking on a handheld phone.


As Andrew Heller wrote in his Flint Journal column: "I'm all for it as long as it applies to you and not to me."


What do you think? Could a highway ban on hands-free cellphone use be enforced? Would it at least make people focus more on their driving and less on their wireless device?

 

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4Comments
Dec 25, 2011 12:30PM
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Yep we need more freedom form gov regulation.  I want to eat, read the paper, adjust my GPS, talk on the cell phone, text, check stock prices and clean my glasses all while I'm driving.  Hey, I have no problem with multitasking behind the wheel, and as long as other drivers watch where I'm going, everyone will be safe.  And what's with this seat belt crap??????
Dec 23, 2011 11:39PM
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This is too much government control!  There are far more people dying from unlicensed drivers on the road (who are mostly illegal immigrants who have never passed a drivers test) than those who are talking on the phone. Wake up America we are losing our freedoms!

Dec 23, 2011 6:11PM
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Some readers suggested that if hands-free use is prohibited, perhaps the government should also ban drivers from talking to passengers, responding to crying babies in the back seat or listening to the radio (not to mention shaving or applying makeup).

 

It's interesting though, if you caused an accident and admitted to a cop that you had been doing any of the above and that was the reason for the accident, you would be cited for distracted driving and would end up paying for all the boo boos..So Smarten Up, driving is a privilege, not a given right under the Constitution.

 

 

Dec 23, 2011 7:22AM
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Great, let's also ban navigation systems, pets, babies, radio talk shows, drinks, food, radar detectors and all drivers.
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