Texting, e-mailing or chatting on a mobile phone while driving are simply too dangerous to be allowed, US federal safety investigators said on Tuesday, urging all states to impose total bans except for emergencies.
Inspired by recent deadly crashes — including one in which a teenager sent or received 11 text messages in 11 minutes before an accident — the recommendation would apply even to hands-free devices, a much stricter rule than any current state law.
The unanimous recommendation by the five-member National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) would make an exception for devices deemed to aid driver safety, such as GPS navigation systems.
A group representing state highway safety offices called the recommendation “a game-changer.”
“States aren’t ready to support a total ban yet, but this may start the discussion,” said Jonathan Adkins, a spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association.
In the US, driving rules and limitations generally are the job of the individual state, even on federally built highways, such as the mammoth interstate highway system.
NTSB chairwoman Deborah Hersman acknowledged the recommendation would be unpopular with many people and said complying would involve changing what has become ingrained behavior for many Americans.
While the NTSB lacks the power to impose restrictions, its recommendations carry significant weight with federal regulators, and congressional and state lawmakers. Another recommendation issued on Tuesday urges states to aggressively enforce current bans on text messaging and the use of mobile phones and other portable electronic devices while driving.
“We’re not here to win a popularity contest,” she said. “No e-mail, no text, no update, no call is worth a human life.”
Currently, 35 states and the District of Columbia ban texting while driving, while nine states and the district bar hand-held mobile phone use. Thirty states ban all mobile phone use for beginning drivers, but enforcement is generally not a high priority and no states ban the use of hands-free devices for all drivers.