NTSB's controversial vote to ban drivers from using phones for any reason pits convenience against safety. Now it's up to individual states to pass and enforce any legal changes.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) voted Tuesday to ban all drivers from using cellphones for any purpose when behind the wheel of a moving vehicle. This was a controversial vote, but was it a good one?
I vote "yes," but first...
Distractions caused by smartphones can be tied to 25% of automobile accidents in the United States, says the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). Are your workers driving distracted?
Chances are, the answer is yes--and that's what scares the NTSB.
Cellphones and smartphones continue to pose a serious threat to American motorists. A study conducted by the GHSA earlier this year sifted through the data from 350 scientific papers on the subject and concluded that drivers are distracted from the primary task of piloting their vehicle by one thing or another up to half the time.
Using a cellphone at all raises the chances that a driver will cause an accident. Sending text messages while driving is even riskier than using a phone to make calls while driving. The GHSA estimates that distractions account for between 15% and 25% of all crashes, which range from minor fender-benders to accidents involving fatalities.
"No call, no text, no update is worth a human life," said Deborah A. P. Hersman, chairman of the NTSB.
Despite all that has been written about driver distraction, there is still a lot that we do not know, said the government report earlier this year. Clearly, more studies need to be done to address both the scope of the problem and how to effectively deal with it.
The GHSA wants individual states to step up efforts to curb distracted driving. It recommends that all states ban texting while driving, as well as ban cellphone use by novice drivers in the car entirely. Further, it says states must do a more effective job of enforcing the laws that are already on the books.
Tuesday's vote by the NTSB takes this to the next level. It recommends that all states ban mobile use by drivers, which means no calls, no texting, no surfing the Web, no using cellphones for any reason when people are behind the wheel.
The issue, however, is up to individual U.S. states to enact into law and then enforce. The NTSB has not yet recommended, for example, that the federal government withhold highway dollars until states enact such legislation.
Businesses that have employees on the road need to take this issue seriously. While equipping fleet drivers, sales professionals, and other traveling employees with smartphones is often necessary, the smart enterprise can take steps to make sure they're not used at the wrong time. Setting up internal use policies is the least measure that should be taken. Make sure employees obey state laws regarding cellphone use in vehicles. Even if cell use isn't banned in your state, your business should probably prohibit it anyway. After all, it's not just the employee who is at risk.
There are plenty of tools available to business and consumer users alike that help manage cellphones when in cars. For example, T-Mobile has recently started offering a service called DriveSmart, which sends incoming calls directly to voicemail and sends canned "I'm driving now, let me call you later" responses to incoming text messages. Even these simple tools can help reduce the impact phone use has when your employees are on the road.
"This is a difficult recommendation, but it's the right recommendation and it’s time," said Hersman.
Speaking personally, this is an issue I pay attention to constantly. I walk around my town a lot. I often come to crosswalks or stop signs where pedestrians have the right of way. I can't count the number of times I've approached such an intersection and noticed a driver completely fail to notice my presence because they were preoccupied with their cellphone.
This is a real issue that, unfortunately, needs to be addressed.
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