In an announcement Monday, the NSC not only issued a plea directly to motorists to stop using the devices, but also urged businesses to enact policies limiting the use of cell phones. The congressionally chartered agency also called on states to pass more laws banning the use of the devices while driving.
California, Washington state, Alaska, the District of Columbia, Louisiana, Minnesota, and New Jersey all have laws that make it a crime to use a phone without a hands-free device while driving. The NSC's proposal would eliminate even the hands-free clause.
"When you're on a call, even if both hands are on the wheel, your head is in the call, and not on your driving," said Janet Froetscher, president and CEO of the NSC, in a statement. "The change we are looking for, to stop cell phone use while driving, won't happen overnight. There will be a day, however, when we look back and wonder how we could have been so reckless with our cell phones and texting devices."
In marshaling support for its campaign, the NSC cited a myriad of studies but particularly one by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis that found that driver use of cell phones contributes to 6% of vehicle crashes -- or 636,000 crashes -- leading to 12,000 serious injuries and 2,600 annual deaths.
States have been adding restrictions to driver cell phone use in a patchwork fashion, with a recent emphasis on outlawing texting while driving. Some states have enacted legislation controlling the use of cell phones but permitting the use of hands-free devices. Nearly 20 states have enacted legislation that restricts use of cell phones by novice drivers. Froetscher appeared to have no illusions that states would jump immediately to ban all moving vehicle use of cell phones, and she acknowledged that it may initially be difficult to enforce strict bans.
"It may be hard for some people to imagine how certain laws, such as those concerning drunk driving, teen driving, seatbelt use, and booster seats, can be enforced by observation alone," she said. "Smart people in law enforcement get together to address such issues. They develop creative and successful measures to identify violators, such as high-visibility enforcement strategies."
The NSC said it's embarking on a campaign to educate business interests about the risk of cell phones while driving. The organization said it will promote the measure in its defensive driving campaign, which reaches 1.5 million people annually.