NTSB backs ban on cellphones, texts while driving

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Texting, emailing or using a cellphone while driving is simply too dangerous to be allowed anywhere, federal safety investigators declared Tuesday, recommending that all states impose a far-reaching total ban except for emergencies.

Inspired by recent deadly crashes including one in which a Missouri 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 would make an exception for devices deemed to aid driver safety such as GPS navigation systems.

Board Chairwoman Deborah Hersman acknowledged the recommendation would be unpopular with many people and that complying would involve changing what has become ingrained behavior for many American drivers.

While the NTSB doesn’t have the power to impose restrictions, its recommendations carry significant weight with federal regulators and congressional and state lawmakers. Another recommendation issued Tuesday urged states to aggressively enforce current bans on text-messaging and the use of cellphones and other portable electronic devices while driving.

“We’re not here to win a popularity contest,” Ms. Hersman said. “No email, no text, no update, no call is worth a human life.”

Currently, 35 states ban texting while driving and some bar cellphone use or emailing with hand-held devices. But enforcement is generally not a high priority, and no state bans the use of hands-free devices.

The immediate impetus for the recommendation of state bans was a deadly highway pileup near Gray Summit, Mo., last year in which a 19-year-old pickup driver sent and received a flurry of texts just before the accident.

NTSB investigators said they are seeing increasing texting, cellphone calls and other distracting behavior by drivers in accidents involving all kinds of transportation. It has become routine to immediately request the preservation of cellphone and texting records when an investigation is begun.

The board has previously recommended bans on texting and cellphone use by commercial truck and bus drivers and beginning drivers, but it had stopped short of calling for a ban on the use of the devices by adults behind the wheel of passenger cars.

About two out of 10 American drivers overall - and half of drivers between 21 and 24 - say they have thumbed messages or emailed from the driver’s seat, according to a survey of more than 6,000 drivers by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

However, the survey found that many drivers don’t think it’s dangerous when they do it - only when others do.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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